The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month: 99 years ago, the moment when the Great War ended was perhaps chosen to be easy to remember. Back then, both the victors and the defeated wanted to ensure that the horrors of the conflict which had brought war on an industrial scale would never be forgotten or repeated.
History has proved these hopes to be misplaced. Thirty-one years after 1918 began a war so devastating that it stripped the previous conflict of its macabre exclusivity. What had been called the Great War became just the First World War.
However, the tradition of marking the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has taken root. Veterans Day, Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day are all marked by the countries involved in that conflict, underlining the eternal message of the pointless carnage that took millions of lives.
Bulgaria, which suffered heavily in the war and was on the losing side, also marks the event, although with less pomp. When Bulgarians think about the First World War, they think mostly of the humiliating Treaty of Neuilly that, on 27 November 1919, stripped their country of significant territories and imposed on it heavy reparations and limitations.
Fighting either with or against the Bulgarians, a number of foreign nationals died in this country and were buried here.
In commemoration of them the international community, led by the British Embassy, gathers in a remembrance ceremony on 11 November in the Sofia Central Cemetery. There, in neighbouring plots, are the remains of 170 British and Irish soldiers, 45 Germans, 199 Italians, 257 French, 464 Romanians, and 531 Serbians (the number includes those who died fighting Bulgaria in the 1912-1913 Balkan wars). Although there are other military cemeteries in Bulgaria, such as those in Plovdiv and Ruse, the one in Sofia is the largest and most impressive.
The ceremony is attended by members of the diplomatic community and ordinary citizens, united in their desire to never forget or repeat the horrors of war, just as their predecessors did in 1918.
Sofia Central Cemetery has a British, German, French and Italian military sections