Some Thoughts on Armistice Day

Kaitlyn Dunnett here, swapping dates with Gerry Boyle, who will now blog on Monday.

Although I’m officially in the “senior citizen” category these days, I’m not old enough to remember when Veterans Day was called Armistice Day. Lately, though, for a couple of reasons, the fact that it was once called that has been impressed upon me. One of the reasons even has to do with crime writing.

According to the webpage for the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the name Armistice Day came from the armistice (temporary cessation of hostilities) that went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.This ended “the war to end all wars” (aka The Great War”) even though the official peace treaty between the Allied nations and Germany wasn’t signed until June 28, 1919. Sadly, this war was not the last of its kind. Barely a generation passed before it had to be designated as World War I, but that’s another story.

One of my hobbies is genealogy. Not too long ago, I started adding photographs to the family tree I’ve been building at In some cases, the only picture I have of a relative shows him in uniform. At least three sprigs on the family tree served in World War I. Fortunately, they all came home from the war and I’m pretty sure they all celebrated Armistice Day with enthusiasm.

The photo at the top of this post is my double great uncle, M. H. Hornbeck of Hurleyville, New York. My maternal grandfather married not one but two of his sisters, which is a story in itself. I have other pictures of Uncle M. H. and I remember him from when I was a little girl. I also remember being chased by a goose on the farm he and Aunt Goldie owned. I didn’t know until I found this photograph that he had gone to war.

My husband had an even closer relative enlist to fight in World War I. His maternal grandfather, Leon Paradis, was Canadian, but he served in the U. S. Army in France as an interpreter and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The photograph above was taken in France on July 31, 1919, shortly after the peace treaty was signed. On the back “three friends” are identified as “Leon Paradis, sergeant, Edgard Dumoulin, lieutenant, and Aug. Marguerite.” Here’s the official “in uniform” photo of Leon.

The other reason I’ve repeatedly been reminded of World War I of late has to do with my taste in reading, a taste fed by but not originating in the popularity of PBS’s Downton Abbey. The period has been popular in mystery fiction for some time. In fact, it goes way back to Agatha Christie and her contemporaries, who lived through the war. Christie’s Hercule Poirot, don’t forget, is a Belgian who fled to England as a wartime refugee.

Many of Christie’s contemporaries wrote about “bright young things” and “the lost generation.” Nowadays, that era is considered “historical” and some of the best of modern mystery writers have chosen it as the setting for their books. I discovered Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series a long time ago. There are eighteen books so far. Death at Wentwater Court, set in 1923, introduces Daisy, who writes articles on stately homes for a magazine. She has to earn her keep because her brother was killed in the war and the entailed family estate went to a distant cousin. More recently I discovered Catriona McPherson’s mysteries. I’ve only read the first one so far, but it is aptly titled After the Armistice Ball. And then, of course, there are the books by Charles Todd, two wonderfully well-written series. In the first, veteran Ian Rutledge resumes his duties on the police force haunted (literally) by the things he had to do during the war. The second series actually takes the reader into the trenches, but with a nurse, Bess Crawford, rather than a soldier, as the protagonist. Women who drove ambulances or worked as nurses are the detectives in several series set after the war, including the wonderful Phryne Fisher mysteries by Kerry Greenwood, set in Australia.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been reading so many of these books, and why I’ll probably watch the next season of Downton Abbey, even though they’ve been randomly killing off characters I like. I’ve never been a fan of novels set during wartime. Although I love historical fiction, I’ve always avoided reading books set during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War (both ours and the English one), as well as more recent conflicts. Now I read all the series mentioned above, where even those set in the post-war period make frequent use of the war for plot purposes, and I’m also hooked on another series, James R. Benn’s Billy Boyle books, that takes place smack dab in the middle of World War II, with battle scenes and everything. I have no explanation for this. On the other hand, in proportion to all the lighthearted cozies and romance novels I regularly devour, war-related books make up only a small proportion of my reading, so maybe I’m just becoming more well-rounded in my interests as I age.

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1 Response to Some Thoughts on Armistice Day

  1. Suzanne Woodward McGuffey says:

    Lest we forget, Dorothy Sayers introduces Lord Peter Wimsey shortly thereafter, suffering from shell-shock. The time between the wars was one of significant change throughout the world.

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