Artwork by Julian Beresford
Remembrance Day began as Armistice Day. An armistice is the agreement between warring nations to stop fighting. The armistice to end fighting on the western front during World War One was signed at Compiegne in northern France on the 11th November 1918. To mark the one year anniversary of this event, King George V introduced the first Armistice Day on the 11th November 1919, to commemorate and remember all those who took part in the First World War.
At the end of World War Two in the United Kingdom, Armistice Day became Remembrance Day, as it was decided that those involved in both wars would be remembered on the same day. Remembrance Day is now known as Remembrance Sunday, with the day being the Sunday closest to the 11th November. Years where Remembrance Sunday does not fall on the 11th November, a two minute silence is held at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month to mark the end of World War One.
Armistice Day became Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth nations after World War Two also, although these nations still observe this day on the 11th November every year. The U.S.A also celebrates Veterans Day on the 11th November.
Remembrance Day is to remember soldiers involved in all wars, not just the First and Second World Wars.
Remembrance Day and the Poppy:
The poppy is now synonymous with Remembrance Day and it has been the symbol of remembrance, particularly since 1921.
Red poppies became such an important symbol for two main reasons. The first is because of the poppies ability to grow naturally in difficult conditions. By the end of 1914, the fields on France and Flanders had been battered and torn apart by the war. The poppy was one of the only plants that could grow naturally on the barren earth of the battlefields.
The poppy was also immortalised in a now famous poem called ‘In Flanders Fileds’. This poem was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write after seeing a field of poppies in early May 1915, shortly after losing a friend at Ypres. Here is the poem:
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.
Moina Michael, an American academic, was inspired by the poem. She began to make sell red silk poppies. These were later brought to England by a French lady, Anna Guérin. The Royal British Legion formed in 1921 and began the first ‘Poppy Appeal’ that year. Nine million poppies were ordered and sold on the 11th November 1921. That first ‘Poppy Appeal’ raised over £106,000 to help veterans of World War One.
The ‘Poppy Appeal’ takes place every year, with millions of poppies being produced, providing employment and riding money for veterans and their families.