November 11th marks the day that Commonwealth nations remember those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. This event grew out of Armistice Day, the day the First World War ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918.
While there was a great deal to celebrate at the end of the war, the loss of life was huge with an estimated 40 million casualties in total. This military action broke out in the summer of 1914 after the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot.
United States National Cemetery, where servicemen and women are interred.
This assassination resulted in Austria-Hungary invading Serbia and Germany declaring war on Russia, then invading Belgium. Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th of August 1914.
It was resolved that the sacrifice of the men who were conscripted to serve in the armed forces was never to be forgotten.
The Cenotaph was first built on Whitehall, London, as a temporary wood and plaster structure. It was used as a saluting base during the Victory Parade, held on the 19th of July 1919.
The overwhelming public acclaim for this design created by Edwin Lutyens gave the Government a solution to the problem of providing a suitable national memorial to the war dead. A swift decision was taken to permanently build the Cenotaph on the same site.
The word cenotaph comes from Greek and means empty tomb. This is often used to symbolize casualties with no known grave, something that was not uncommon in these times.
The war memorials that sprung up in towns and villages around the country became the focus for grieving families. Many of the casualties of the war were buried near the battlefields where they fell and families at home had no grave to visit and mourn their losses. Gatherings at the war memorial thus became an annual event for the survivors and families.
The two minutes silence is observed on 11 November, the original Armistice Day.
Remembrance Sunday is the Sunday closest to 11 November and is the day communities lay royal British Legion poppy wreaths at war memorials around the country alongside reading The Exhortation, two minutes silence, and playing the last post.
In London, at the Cenotaph there is a National Service of Remembrance, with the Queen and members of state in attendance, and a march past of veterans.
In towns and villages up and down the UK groups and organizations buy poppy wreaths and lay them on the local war memorials.
Many towns and villages decided to create their own war memorials and throughout the country in the years following the armistice. Sculptures and memorials listing the soldiers that lost their lives in the war were built by the grateful communities left after the destruction of the fighting.
War memorials were created by individual communities according to decisions made by local committees. There were no government directives or any rules about what form a memorial should take.
This led to an incredibly diverse range of designs and is one reason why war memorials are such an important part of British heritage.
They reflect the wishes of that community at that time and provide a fascinating insight into the feelings of the population in the aftermath of conflict.
There are around 1,200 cemeteries distributed around Northern France and Belgium that are the final resting place of many thousands of commonwealth soldiers.
These graveyards are maintained by the War Graves Commission. The collection of so many regimented pristine white headstones standing in endless rows is one of the most moving sights known to man, and a suitable epitaph to the horrors of conflict.
The Thiepval Memorial, near the Somme in Northern France, is the largest Memorial to the Missing in the world.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the Cenotaph and unveiled it in 1932, it bears the names of over 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died on the Somme and have no known grave.
A Thankful Village was said to be one which lost no men in the Great War as all those who had left to serve ‘King and Country’ came home again. It was suggested that such villages had no memorials, although some had monuments, usually in the church, in gratitude for their good fortune.
Among the 16,000 villages in England, there are around 41 parishes throughout England and Wales from which all soldiers returned, so-called ‘Thankful villages’.
A handful of these places are, ‘doubly thankful,’ that is, no one from them was lost in the Second World War either, however many still chose to create a monument or plaque to express their thanks for those soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
The British grave of the Unknown Warrior (often known as ‘The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior’) holds an unidentified member of the British armed forces killed on a European battlefield during the First World War. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, London on 11 November 1920.
At the same time in France at the Arc de Triomphe, a French unknown soldier was interred at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, making both graves the first to honour the unknown dead of the First World War.
Canada raised the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) for service on the Western Front. From 1915, it fought in most of the major battles. Newfoundland, not part of Canada until 1949, also sent troops.
The Newfoundland Regiment fought at Gallipoli, but the following year was almost wiped out at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme.
Almost 100,000 New Zealanders also served overseas in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF), including 2,700 Māori and Pacific Islanders.
Around 18,000 New Zealanders gave their lives. This included 2,700 men killed at Gallipoli and over 12,000 soldiers killed on the Western Front.
Over 410,000 Australians served with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the war, sustaining around 200,000 casualties. In April 1915, Australians landed at Gallipoli in Turkey with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France.
Over 60,000 labourers came from South Africa. Black South Africans were restricted to a logistical role because the South African government feared arming them. Around 25,000 black South Africans were also recruited to the South African Native Labour Contingent that served on the Western Front.
In 1915, an expeditionary force of 67,000 white South African troops invaded Namibia. Many of these soldiers later fought in East Africa as well. White South African units were also sent to the Western Front.
African troops played a key role in containing the Germans in East Africa and defeating them in West Africa. Europeans and Indians struggled in the harsh African climate, but the local inhabitants had the skills to survive and prosper.
At least 180,000 Africans also served in the Carrier Corps in East Africa and provided logistic support to troops at the front.
Soldiers from the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) fought in all the major wartime theatres and made a decisive contribution to the struggle against the Central Powers.
The red remembrance poppy has become a symbol of remembrance and is synonymous with November 11th, also now known as Poppy Day.
It was adopted as the emblem of the armistice remembrance events after the famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ written by Canadian soldier and poet John McCrea became popular.
McCrea had noticed the red poppies blooming amidst the death and destruction of the battlefields, known as Flanders Fields, in Northern France and Belgium and this inspired his poem to his lost comrades. Tragically McCrea died of pneumonia before the armistice.
The striking imagery of the red poppy has been in use ever since after a campaign by Moina Michael, an American academic, to adopt the poppy as the official symbol of remembrance.
The first poppy was used by Anna Guérin, a French national who was an advocate of using the red poppy in this symbolic way and sold them in London for this purpose. Anna was inspired by the imagery of McCrea’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’.
Anna met and persuaded Earl Haig to wear the poppy flower and he became one of the founder members of the Royal British Legion in 1921. This symbol of remembrance is now sold every year to raise money by the Royal British Legion.
The Royal British Legion is a charity that supports ex-servicemen and women and their families. The poppies are still sold to raise money and awareness about issues that affect ex-servicemen today.
2021 is the centenary anniversary of the Royal British Legion, the charity that has done so much to support servicemen and their families.
Through their work, over the last century, this charity has made a difference in the lives of thousands of soldiers.
The first-ever Poppy Appeal was also held in November 1921. For this event, Anna Guérin offered to fund the manufacture of a million poppies in France which the British Legion accepted.
These first remembrance day red poppy flowers were made by women in France, often widows of the armed forces who had lost their lives in World War One, co-ordinated by Anna Guérin.
The poppies sold out almost immediately and a large sum of money was raised. This money was used to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing.
As a result of the first world war, Britain’s economy plummeted and in 1921 there were two million people unemployed. Over six million men had served in the military conflict.
Of those who came back, 1.75 million had suffered some kind of disability, and half of these were permanently disabled. Due to the nature of warfare in this conflict, there were very high numbers of disabled veterans.
The use of mustard gas is famous during this time, leaving much military personnel blind or with permanent lung damage. The use of shells and artillery in battle left many with severe limb impairments and many amputees.
Consequently, disabled ex-servicemen who survived the fighting were often unable to work and provide for their families when peace finally came.
Then there were those who depended on those who had gone to fight – the wives and children, widows, and orphans, as well as the parents who had lost sons in the conflict, on whom they were often financially dependent.
The Royal British Legion was established to care and provide charity for those who had suffered as a result of service during the conflict.
A poppy appeal is now an annual event that we see as the days become colder and poppy sellers appear on the streets of British cities and towns.
Remembering the sacrifice of the soldiers who lost their lives and were disabled in the first and second World Wars and conflicts since those events have become part of British culture as everyone wears their poppy with pride.
The poppy has become iconic in the commonwealth countries of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, countries that suffered huge civilian and army losses in the World Wars.
Poppy sellers are volunteers who can be seen on the streets and in the shops of the United Kingdom from the end of October. The sale of the poppies that people wear, raises funds for the Royal British Legion to continue their charity work with ex-servicemen.
Poppies are worn with pride to remember our history and the sacrifice of those soldiers of the commonwealth countries; Canada, New Zealand, and Australia in particular.
There are many variations on the traditional poppy, enamel pin badges, silk poppies, poppies for your car grille, shopping bags, and even face masks are all ways you can support the Royal British Legion and their charity work.
One of the schemes created by the Royal British Legion is The Poppy Factory which supports veterans with health conditions on their journey into employment, helping them overcome any barriers.
Four out of five of the veterans report having a mental health condition.
Through the Poppy Factory, the Royal British Legion’s employment team is on hand to offer one-to-one support to help these army veterans find employment, including disabled ex-servicemen and women who might face additional hurdles in accessing work.
Between 2014 and 2018 to mark 100 years since the events of World War One, the Tower of London, a huge tourist destination in the capital created an art installation using 888,246 ceramic poppies called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.
The number of ceramic poppies used represented the number of British military lives lost during the conflict. The poppies were placed in the moat of the famous castle, spilling from the Tower window in a section that became known as ‘The Weeping window’.
White, purple, and black poppies are also worn in commemoration. Wearing white poppies represents peace and is the choice of poppy for pacifists and religious groups such as the Quakers.
The black poppy commemorates the sacrifice of the black, African, and Caribbean communities in service, while the purple poppy commemorates the role animals have played in conflicts throughout time.
The Dickin medal was introduced in 1943 to honour the work of animals, some of which died in combat.
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