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Remembrance Day History & Traditions


Nov 07 2016

Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day is held annually on the 11 November, and started as a commemoration of the soldiers who died during World War I (1914-1918).

It commemorates the signing of the armistice, or truce, between the Allies and Germany at 11am on 11 November – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The first Remembrance Day was held in 1919, the year in which the conflict was officially concluded with the signing of peace treaties in June 1919.  The Manchester Guardian announced on 11 November 1919 that “Today is Peace Day”.

Two features of the very first Remembrance Day are still central to today’s commemorations – the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the two minute long silence. The King instructed people to remain silent at 11 o’clock and to cease any activity, bow their heads and think of the fallen.

To announce the start of the silence, church bells rang. At this point everything halted, including public transportation and factories, even electrical supplies were cut off to stop trams and the royal navy ships stopped moving. The Times described this as “a great awful silence”. No instructions were given about where people should observe the silence, but most chose to stand silently outdoors in a public place.

Following on from this, new Remembrance Day traditions were developed. In November 1920 the ‘Unknown Warrior’ was buried in Westminster Abbey – the Unknown Warrior was the body of an unknown, ordinary serviceman picked at random. This tradition was designed to honour the ordinary serviceman and to provide emotional relief for survivors.

Since 1919 it has become British tradition to pause to remember those killed, not just in World War I, but in World War II, other conflicts and the British servicemen and women killed or injured since 1945.

Remembrance Sunday is held on the second Sunday in November when services of remembrance are held across the country at churches and war memorials. Most notably is the service held at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall. Here the Queen, senior members of the royal family, the Prime Minister, other politicians and members of the Armed Forces gather to honour the dead.

Significance of the Poppy

During the First World War, the majority of the fighting took place in Western Europe (the Western Front). As a result of the fighting, the previously beautiful countryside became fields of mud where little to nothing would grow.

Flanders poppies were a delicate, yet resilient flower and flourished even amongst the chaos. In May  1915, a Canadian doctor named John McCrae, after losing a friend in Ypres was inspired by the sight of the poppies to write a poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’.

After reading this poem, an American academic named Moina Michael was inspired to make and sell red silk poppies. The Royal British Legion formed in 1921, and ordered 9 million of these poppies to sell on 11th November that year. They sold out almost immediately, and raised over £106,000 to help World War I veterans with employment and housing.

In 1922 artificial poppies were manufactured by ex-servicemen to ensure their employment, and the proceeds supported ex-servicemen that were in need. From this point the poppy became symbolic and it became a tradition to wear one on Remembrance Day.

Poppies are still sold to this day and money raised helps to provide support for the Armed Forces community and their families.

Here is the famous Poem written by John McCrae, In Flanders Fields

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' Fields.

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