November 11th 2017 marks the 99th anniversary of the end of The Great War, World War One.
744,000 British Soldiers gave their life, bravely fighting for our country.
We will remember them.
What is the origin of Remembrance Day?
11 November is universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the First World War. This conflict had mobilized over 70 million people and left between 9 and 13 million dead and as many as one third of these with no grave. The Allied nations chose this day and time for the commemoration of their war dead.
At 11 am on 11 November 1918, the guns on the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare. The allied armies had driven the German invaders back, having inflicted heavy defeats upon them over the preceding four months.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month attained a special significance in the post-war years and became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the war.
Relevance of the Poppy
During the First World War, much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. Previously beautiful countryside was blasted, bombed and fought over, again and again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud: bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow.
Bright red Flanders poppies however, were delicate but resilient flowers and grew in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of chaos and destruction. In early May 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies to write a now famous poem called 'In Flanders Fields'.
McCrae’s poem inspired an American academic, Moina Michael, to make and sell red silk poppies which were brought to England by a French woman, Anna Guérin. The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever 'Poppy Appeal' raised over £106,000; a considerable amount of money at the time. This was used to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing.
The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory to employ disabled ex-Servicemen. Today, the factory and the Legion's warehouse in Aylesford produces millions of poppies each year.
The demand for poppies in England was so high that few were reaching Scotland. Earl Haig's wife established the 'Lady Haig Poppy Factory' in Edinburgh in 1926 to produce poppies exclusively for Scotland. Over 5 million Scottish poppies (which have four petals and no leaf unlike poppies in the rest of the UK) are still made by hand by disabled ex-Servicemen at Lady Haig's Poppy Factory each year and distributed by our sister charity Poppyscotland.
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.
John McCrae, In Flanders Fields.
What is the significance of the period of Silence?
On the first anniversary of the armistice in 1919, two minutes’ silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony at the new Cenotaph in London.
Australian journalist Edward Honey proposed the silence. At about the same time, a South African statesman made a similar proposal to the British Cabinet, which endorsed it.
King George V personally requested all the people of the British Empire suspend normal activities for two minutes on the hour of the Armistice 'which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years and marked the victory of Right and Freedom'.
The two minutes silence was popularly adopted and it became a central feature of commemorations of Armistice Day.
The Unknown Soldier
On the second anniversary of the Armistice on 11 November 1920, the commemoration was given added significance when it became a funeral, with the return of the remains of an unknown soldier from the battlefields of the Western Front.
Unknown soldiers were interred with full military honors in Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triumph in Paris. The entombment in London attracted over one million people within a week to pay their respects at the unknown soldier's tomb. Most other allied nations adopted the tradition of entombing unknown soldiers over the following decade.