In the UK, Remembrance Sunday is always the Sunday nearest to 11th November. Poppies have become an important symbol of remembrance.
11th November is Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day. This commemorates the day when an armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany, which brought about the cessation of hostilities on what was known as Western Front. The name of the day was changed from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day in 1931.
The armistice took effect the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. An armistice is officially only a temporary cessation of hostilities, and it initially expired after 36 days. However, it was kept for longer and a formal peace agreement was reached when the Treaty of Versailles was signed the following year. It was signed on 28th June 1919, and took force on 10th January 1920.
Poppies become a symbol of remembrance 3 years after World War 1. In many parts of western Europe, the countryside was blasted, bombed and fought over repeatedly. Previously beautiful landscapes turned to mud, and were bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow. However, in the Flanders area of western Belgium, which was the scene of some of the worst fighting, bright-red poppies grew in their thousands on the ground that had been churned up by the fighting. The flowers stood out, delicate, but resilient; and their colour reflected the awful bloodshed.
In the spring of 1915, shortly after he’d lost a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was moved by the sight of those poppies. His thoughts and reflections on them, led him to write the now famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. That poem inspired others to think about using the poppy as a symbol in memory of those who’d died.
Whilst the first Armistice Day was in 1919, the first Poppy Day was in 1921. 18 million people had died worldwide and another 23 million were injured. Many thousands of young men returned to this country so badly injured that they were unable to work and were desperately in need of help. Poppies began to be used for raise funds to support those who’d served, and those who still serve in the armed forces. Nowadays, about 36 million poppies are made every year, in addition to other versions now popular such as knitted ones and jewellery brooches. These obviously last longer, and some people wear them all year, not just in November.
Remembrance poppies are mostly used in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. They are used to a lesser extent in the USA. Different counties remember their war dead on different days. These include:
- New Zealand keeps ANZACc Day on 25 April
- South Africa has Poppy Day on the Sunday nearest to 11th November
- The USA has Veterans Day on 11th November
- Germany keeps Volkstrauertag on the Sunday nearest to 16th November
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.