Why we remember on the 11th of November

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Remembrance Day is an integral and very important day in the United Kingdom. For one day a year the country comes together to celebrate the lives of those we have lost in war. If you don’t know all that much about what Remembrance Day stands for then this article will hopefully explain that to you. You may know Remembrance Day as Poppy Day, and that’s perfectly alright. Either way, it’s an integral and important part of history and every year we respect that.

But why do we wear poppies? Why do we always have two minutes of silence? And why is it held on the 11th of November? This article will hopefully explain.

Why the 11th of November

Today marks the day that World War One ended. The 11th day, 11th hour and the 11th month of the year, 1918. Every year a two minute silence is held to commemorate the lives we lost during war. On Sunday is Remembrance Sunday, where a ceremony will take place and a war memorial honouring will occur. For this, the Royal Family, Prime Minister and leader of the opposition will place wreaths at the Cenotaph in London.

It’s not a day just to remember those who lost their lives in World War One though. Remembrance Day is about remembering those who we have lost in other conflicts, such as World War Two or the more recent war in the Middle East. The Falklands War, Gulf War and Iraq war are also included in our two minutes of respectful silence.

For the most part public areas such as shopping centres and schools also fall silent to pay their respects. Other countries within the British Commonwealth also take part in paying respects to the fallen soldiers.

Two minutes of silence

Since 1919, the entirety of the United Kingdom has fallen silent for two minutes on the 11th of November. King George V first started the notion of the two minutes of silence. He called for the people of Britain and the United Kingdom to fall silent. The request was made so that “”the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead”.

Every year now we take part in two minutes of silence and it always occurs at 11 a.m. The song “Last Post” is played, and then the two minutes of silence occur after this. Sometimes people will have the two minutes silence before or during the playing of Last Post. While not technically wrong, for the most part the two minutes of silence should always be after the song has ended.

It’s not just the United Kingdom that holds a two minute silence though. All around the Commonwealth, including Canada and Australia, have the same tradition and remember the lives lost. The silence itself originates from a tradition in Cape Town, where there was a daily three minute silence and a noon day gun firing.

Why do people wear poppies

General view of poppy badges at the Armed Forces Memorial in preparation for a Service of Remembrance on Armistice Day at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.

The wearing of the poppy was inspired by the poem “Flanders Fields” which talks of vast poppy fields. After World War One ended, poppies began to grow on the battlefield where people used to fight. Because of this, poppies have more or less become a symbol of respect to those that have served or lost their lives in war. Every year volunteers go around the country selling poppies to the general public.

The money raised from selling poppies goes to charities that help servicemen and women who have had their lives changed by war. This money is to help them financially. Helping them look for jobs, support their families or help veterans with any support they will need. Poppies are usually a pound, and charities raise hundreds of thousands per year for veterans of war and conflict.

Wearing poppies hasn’t been around as long as the two minutes silence though. The poppy first became tradition in 1921 when the Royal British Legion was founded in May of that year. When first selling poppies they sold out almost immediately, raising roughly £106,000. In 1922 a factory was opened where disabled or retired soldiers could make poppies for the public. To this day the factory is still open and producing poppies.

Opposition to the poppy

Some people don’t wear the poppy and that is perfectly okay once you listen to their reasons. Reasons for not wearing the poppy range from not agreeing with the modern day use of the poppy to poppy fascism. I should point out that poppy fascism is the idea that you can criticise those that don’t wear the poppy. Other reasons also include pacifism to war and also the objection of British Armed Force actions.

There are perfectly good reasons to not wear a poppy and there are of course other ways of paying your respects. Donating to a charity that supports veterans is one of the many ways of paying your respects this year. Should people be forced to wear the poppy? Of course not, it’s entirely their decision as to whether or not they would like to wear one. For the most part the opposition to the poppy is valid, and it’s their choice to not wear one.

Flanders Fields

A group of volunteers remove ceramic poppies as work begins to dismantle the art installation “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” at the Tower of London in London November 12, 2014. (John Stillwell/Reuters)

The poem Flanders Fields has more or less become an integral part of the respect we pay to the lives we have lost. The first line of the poem is one of the influential reasons as to why we wear poppies. Remember that Remembrance Day is all about remembering the soldiers who have fought and given their lives for this country.

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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Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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