Remembrance Day: five things you didn’t know about the commemorative annual event
11 November 2020
Remembrance Day is an annual chance to hold services and fall silent for two minutes in order to remember those who have fallen in battle.
This year, because of coronavirus, commemorations must take place remotely. So, in line with social distancing guidelines, the Royal British Legion is encouraging people to observe the two minute silence at 11am on Wednesday, from their doorstops.
Here, we look at the meaning behind the annual event with a list of facts about Remembrance Day you may not be aware of.
Remembering soldiers in all wars
Although Remembrance Day takes place annually on 11 November, marking the end of the First World War, it is a day to honour and pay tribute to all those who have fought in all wars and their families. This includes soldiers who fought in World War II, the Falklands, the Gulf War and conflicts in the Middle East. Usually, commemorative services take place on the second Sunday in November, in churches and war memorials around the country as poppy wreaths are laid as a mark of respect.
Poppies in Belgium
The vibrant red poppy has become synonymous with Remembrance Day and is worn by millions throughout November time in support of the Armed Forces community. Poppies were chosen to represent Remembrance Day as the prominent flower which grew on the battlefields of Northern Europe, in Belgium, France and Holland, when the fighting stopped. There are still fields of poppies in these areas, which were furious battlegrounds over 100 years ago. Today, these countries are some of the most peaceful areas of Europe, populated largely by small farming communities.
Origins of ‘The Last Post’
Every year at football grounds and memorial services, The Last Post is played during a period of silence to stir emotion and provoke reflection. The famous tune is a military stalwart which was originally played on battlegrounds immediately following the fighting to indicate to soldiers that the battle was over. It has been adopted as the moving anthem of Remembrance Day.
Building of the Cenotaph
The UK’s most famous war memorial is the large rectangular stone Cenotaph. Situated outside Downing Street in Westminster, the Cenotaph acts as a regular visual reminder to those in power of the great human cost of war. It was originally built as a temporary structure in 1918 as part of a peace parade. However, after an outpouring of public sentiment, the structure was made permanent and a stone version was finished in 1920 on the current site. Each year on Remembrance Day, the Queen and other dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, attend a remembrance service at the Cenotaph to pay respects to those fallen in battle.
Sadly, this year’s Remembrance Sunday was very different. People weren’t able to join together in commemoration as they normally would and only a small number were able to attend the ceremony at the Cenotaph.
Wartime poetry is symbolically linked with Remembrance Day, as the poems of Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy and many others were written and published during the brutal fighting of the First World War. Every November, you will likely hear lines extracted from these enduring poems. Laurence Byron’s ‘For the Fallen’, published a few weeks after the outbreak of the fighting in 1914, is perhaps the most significant in this genre. It’s most famous passage reads: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”
Remembrance Day is a commemorative event which is particularly significant to funeral directors as professionals in the business of remembrance. Each year, many funeral directors will decorate their premises with Remembrance Day memorabilia and war time artefacts as a dignified sign of respect.
Wherever you are, at 11am on the 11 November, you are invited to observe the two minute silence in honour of those who lost life, or suffered, in the two World Wars and other conflicts. Every year, Remembrance Day gives us the opportunity to give thanks for those in the past, who gave so much, so that we might live as we do today. Their sacrifice gave us our freedom.