Remembrance Day falls on Sunday 8th November this year; but why is it observed each year, and which countries observe it?
Remembrance Day evolved from the observance of Armistice Day. Armistice Day marked the end of the First World War, on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918, when an agreement was signed to end conflict in Europe (Remembrance Day marks the end of conflict, but the full peace treaty was not signed until June 28th the following year at Versailles). In modern times, the day of memorial is to remember not just those who died in the Great War of 1914-18, but all members of the Armed Forces who have died in the line of duty.
Remembrance Day is observed in all Commonwealth countries, and most other leading nations hold an equivalent memorial on the same day (e.g. Veteran’s Day in the USA). Typically, a period of silence (~2 minutes) is held at 11am to mark the signing of the peace treaty, and thousands of memorial services are held – such as at the Epitaph memorial in London, or at SHSB for the upper school.
Many of you will have heard of, or even seen the display which was organised last year at the Tower of London. “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” was an installation created by artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, made up of 888,246 ceramic poppies – one for each British casualty during WW1 – to mark the centenary of Britain’s involvement in the war. The poppies were each then sold to raise money for six charities for the benefit of current and ex Armed Forces personnel, including the British Legion.
The poppy is a common symbol for Remembrance Day, a long-standing tradition begun by the British Legion. The British Legion was set up in 1921 by Douglas Haig (a key British commander in WW1), and is the charity to which money from the nationwide poppy appeal goes to. The charity provides lifelong support for current and ex members of the British Armed Forces. The use of a poppy as a symbol originates from the Flanders fields of Belgium/France, and the famous poem written about them by a serving soldier during the war (In Flanders Fields by John McCrae). Flanders fields were involved in the many battles fought at Ypres, one of the most infamous and devastating series of battles of the war.
This year, an emphasis will be placed on commemorating the Battle of Britain, on the 75th anniversary of the aerial conflict which was crucial in deciding the outcome of the Second World War. Taking place from July – October 1940, it was the period of heaviest bombing Britain experienced during the war. By repelling German attempts to gain air superiority and destroy strategically key RAF locations, Britain forced Hitler and the Nazis to abandon plans to invade Britain (Operation Sea Lion), which could potentially have changed the outcome of the war entirely. The build up to the battle saw many areas of the South East scale up evacuations – including many of SHSB’s former pupils, most of whom were sent to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.
Remembrance Day is an important day in British and global culture, and this is reflected in the formality with which it is observed at SHSB. For the service, flags will be raised on the flagpole (the only time of year this happens), and outside guests will join us to reflect on the lives lost in not just World War One, but all conflicts.
“When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For their tomorrow, we gave our today” -John Maxwell Edmonds