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Posted on Nov 11, 2005 in Armchair Reading, Front Page Features

Remembrance Day

By Shane Sohnle

The First Remembrance Day

A message from King George V, addressed "to all the peoples of the Empire", read in the Canadian House of Commons by acting Prime Minister Sir George Foster on November 6, 1919:

To all my people:

Tuesday next, November 11th, is the first anniversary of the armistice which stayed the world-wide carnage of the four preceding years, and marked the victory of right and freedom.  I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of that great deliverance and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of this feeling it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the  armistice came into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities.  During that time, except in the rare cases where this might be impractical, all work, all sound and all locomotion should cease, so that in perfect stillness the thoughts of every one may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

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Due to the impracticality of observing the ceremony simultaneously throughout the Empire, the Secretary of State for the Colonies suggested in a letter to the Governor General in Canada that observance should be held at 11:00 AM local time.  There are similar stories around the world of how individual governments came to observe the day and how it was passed into federal law, thusly making a national holiday in that country.

History of the Poppy

The poppy is an international symbol of those who died in war, and was first remarked upon by an early 19th century writer during the Napoleonic wars.  He noted that the fields, barren prior to battle, had exploded with the blood-red flowers when the fighting had ceased.  Most people associate the Poppy with Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who made the same connection a century later, and wrote the poem In Flanders Fields.  Prior to the fighting of WWI, few poppies had grown in Flanders Fields.  The chalk soil had become rich in lime, which was found in the rubble created during the massive bombardments of the period.  This in turn allowed the poppy to thrive.  The lime was absorbed after the war ended, and the poppy began to decline.

An American, Moina Michael, began wearing a poppy to honor the millions lost during the Great War.  A French woman visiting the US in 1920, Madame Guerin, learned of the custom, and began using handmade poppies to raise money for children in war-torn parts of France.  In November 1921, poppies were first distributed in Canada, and have been worn on hats, lapels and dresses ever since.

Remembrance Day is celebrated in many different nations, in somewhat different ways.

In the United States, November 11th is Veterans Day, a day when the nation gives thanks to those who served honorably in the military, both living and dead.  Many people confuse this with Memorial Day, when Americans traditionally wear poppies to signify remembrance of their honored dead.  Great Britian observes Remembrance Day on the Sunday nearest November 11th. 

A common theme among most nations are church services and parades composed of  veterans, honoring those that gave up their tomorrows, so that we could have today.  The significance of Remembrance Day has never lessened; indeed, the importance of observing the ceremony of remembrance has increased.  Most young people today are at least three or four generations removed from family members who served in the Great War.  Whether you attend a service, take your children out to one of the military parades, watch the specials on televisions tonight, or simply spare a moment of silence at some point during your day – please take the time to honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.  They deserve no less.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
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

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

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Lest we forget…

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