We have already begun to see people wearing them, the red poppies of Remembrance for those fallen during World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars. Or so the survivors hoped.
Remembrance Day (sometimes known informally as Poppy Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. (The Commonwealth of Nations, normally known as the Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organization of 53 member states that are mostly former territories of the British Empire.)
Following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919, the day is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in most countries to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. (“At the 11th hour” refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 am.) The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.
The memorial evolved out of Armistice Day, which continues to be marked on the same date. The initial Armistice Day was observed at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a “Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic” during the evening hours of 10 November 1919. The first official Armistice Day was subsequently held on the grounds of Buckingham Palace the following morning.
The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. After reading the poem, Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia, wrote the poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” and swore to wear a red poppy on the anniversary. The custom spread to Europe and the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth within three years.
Poppies were worn for the first time at the 1921 anniversary ceremony. At first, real poppies were worn. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I; their brilliant red color became a symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
The common British, Canadian, South African, and ANZAC tradition includes a one- or two-minute silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (11:00 am, 11 November), as that marks the time (in the United Kingdom) when the armistice became effective.
The Service of Remembrance in many Commonwealth countries generally includes the sounding of the “Last Post”, followed by the period of silence, followed by the sounding of “Reveille” or sometimes just “The Rouse” (often confused for each other), and finished by a recitation of the “Ode of Remembrance.” The hymns “Flowers of the Forest,” “O Valiant Hearts,” “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” and “Jerusalem” are often played during the service. Services also include wreaths laid to honor the fallen, a blessing, and national anthems.
Today, the federal department of Veterans Affairs Canada states that Remembrance Day is held in “remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace”; particularly the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and all conflicts since then in which members of the Canadian Armed Forces have participated.
Here in Calgary, a field of crosses is erected along Memorial Drive on the north shore of the Bow River, with crosses commemorating the men and women who have died for Canada, and for the United States, as many of those fallen were dual citizens of both countries. Almost 100 years of the slain, most in their twenties. To walk among the crosses is a sobering reminder of the cost of wars throughout history.
Tom and I will wear a poppy throughout this period, our silent acknowledgement of their sacrifice, and our thanks.
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.