In my last post (forgive the pun!!) we looked at November as a month for traditionally remembering the dead – the famous, the infamous and our families, our heritage – those who have gone before us and inspired us with lives we see as good examples and those who warn us by the consequences of choices that we might also want to learn from.
Today I want to share my thoughts and research into Remembrance Day, because, although I have learned this all before, I forget the details. In reminding myself, I can pass on to you the traditions behind this annual event.
Formerly Armistice Day, this was first celebrated at Buckingham Palace in 1918.
Why 11th November?
It was a military memorial day observed in Commonwealth member-states since the end of WW1 to honour all those who died in the line of duty. The hostilities ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of November, with the signing of the armistice. (Though the war ended officially with the Treaty of Versailles which was signed on 28th June 1919)
After WW2, the name of the day was changed to Remembrance Day in UK and Veterans Day in the US and is used to honour and remember all who gave their lives in WW1 and in ALL subsequent wars and conflicts.
The traditional ceremony involves the laying of a wreath to honour and remember
After the clock strikes 11 O’clock, ‘The Last Post’ is played, followed by 2 minutes silence, after which ‘The Rouse’ or Reveille is played.
The Act of Remembrance consists of the following:
The Exhortation is recited:
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.
The Last Post is sounded.
(A Piper Lament may be included in Scotland.)
The Two Minute Silence is observed.
Reveille is sounded.
The Kohima Epitaph is recited (optional):
When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow, we gave our today.
Though Remembrance is no longer a religious ceremony, it is inclusive, but prayers and blessings are sometimes said and traditionally ‘Jerusalem’ is played.
Why red poppies? Why Poppy Day?
Poppies grow well on the disturbed earth of barren battlefields, where little else grows. The British legion introduced the red poppy to represent the sacrifice made by comrades and as a lasting memorial.
In France the symbol is the cornflower.
Whilst the British (and other Commonwealth nations) remembered the sacrifices made by thousands of (mainly) men during the first world war, people also had the sense of ‘never again’ and wanting to learn from the tragic waste of lives in war. In the 1930s a women’s guild began wearing white poppies in a statement to support and promote peace, rather than war, but many chose to see this as dishonouring those who died in war and the movement was squashed.
Today we remember ALL who have given their lives in conflicts all around the world.
Lest we forget!
Death, be not proud
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
By John Donne (early 1600s)
This year, on a personal note, as every year on 11th November, I remember my own baptism in 1984 and I also remember my very special friend, Little John, whose anniversary it is too. He always joked about my poor memory and I smile to think he died on a day he knew I could never forget. I don’t forget him.
Other countries that were not ‘allies’ at the time of the first and second ‘world war’s, will have different sentiments surrounding 11th November and may have their own equivalent day or time of remembrance. I’d love to hear about that too.
I will remember all of this on Thursday and also stop, for the 2 minutes, in respect for the dead. Is this part of your traditions at all?