Initially, Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, was observed in honor of the cease-fire between the Allies and the Germans that brought an unofficial end of the Great War (World War I). The peace treaty that officially ceased hostilities wasn’t signed by all participatory governments until 1919. The Treaty of Versailles was signed by the victorious and the defeated on June 28, 1919, the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which triggered the beginning of the conflict.
The earliest Armistice Day commemorations served as a solemn occasion for the countries involved in the Great War to remember those who were killed during the fighting. Up until that war, the number of soldiers deceased had never reached that massive number. The figure did not include the civilians who were also exterminated by the conflict – whether through revolution or the actual war.
The United Kingdom and the Commonwealth soon officially entitled the observance as Remembrance Day and all sacrificed military personnel are honored on the occasion. Those who died during World War II and subsequent wars are honored on the same ceremony. Gradually, the date has evolved from November 11, to a day where it is featured as a three-day weekend.
Most of Europe has also adjusted the observance date for the longer weekend. They continue to refer to the celebration as Armistice Day.
In the USA, it is named Veteran’s Day and honors all of those who served in the military in defending the country.
Of course, there remain solemn ceremonies throughout the world to commemorate the sacrifices made by many in the service of their country and crown. The quarantines that accompanied the recent coronavirus COVID-19 outbreaks seriously impacted the attendance at the many memorials but did not eradicate the intended ceremony entirely.
The poppy is a flower that grows in abundance in the Flanders area of Belgium. For this reason, countless graves of those who died were adorned with poppies due to there accessibility and availability. No one needed to purchase them to place them on a grave. It was a small token of the tribute that fellow soldiers gave to those fallen. This accounted for the widespread affection the poppy gained by all of the belligerents during the Great War (World War I).
This year marks the centennial year of the red poppy as the symbol of eternal tribute to the lives lost in honor. In 1921, the British Legion (now the Royal British Legion) officially adopted the red poppy to sell to the public to raise funds for the Earl Haig family survivors fund. This year also returns the Two-Minute Silence (on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) the official date and time the original Armistice Day took effect.
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
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.
John McCrae was the son of Scottish immigrants and born in Guelph, Ontario. Canada, in 1872. In May, 1915, he was serving as a physician in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in Flanders, Belgium. On May 2, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, a Canadian field artillery officer and a close friend of McCrae was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres. Shortly afterwards, McCrae wrote the above poem in memory of his friend and honoring all the war dead.
The poem was first published on December 8, 1915, in London, UK, in the satire magazine Punch. It was immediately popular as a fitting tribute and widely circulated and reprinted.
It is worthy to note that the tribute paid to all those lost through war is absolutely not an endorsement of warfare or the practice of conflict. It is simply honoring those who died of no fault of their won.
Roger Poladopoulos/ReNude Pride
Author’s Note: The next post entry here is planned for Friday, November 12, 2021, and the proposed topic is: “November Footnote!”