11th November is a significant day in the Commonwealth’s history. It’s a day of remembrance to all those soldiers who fought in the first world war.
On 11th November at 11am in 1918, hostilities between the Central powers and the Allied powers came to an end after the armistice was signed at around 5am earlier that day. The world war didn’t officially end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June the following year but 11/11 is recognised around the Commonwealth as the acknowledgement of the end of the war.
Each year, 11th November is celebrated around the Commonwealth with a two-minute’s silence often being held at 11am and remembrance services taking place around the world. The most notable service takes place at Westminster Abbey in London. Politicians from all parties, leaders of industry as well as members of the Royal Family attend this service, often held by the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Wreaths will be laid on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and parades take place around London, most notably near the Cenotaph, a memorial which represents WWI soldiers, located near Westminster Abbey.
Most attendees to remembrance events will dress in black with the symbol of remembrance, the poppy. The poppy is a red flower, which grew in the fields across Europe where soldiers earlier fought for their lives. A Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel, John McCrae, wrote a famous poem in 1915 called 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.
It was this poem that inspired the poppy to be recognised as the symbol for those who lost their lives during the First World War. In 1921, shortly after the end of WWI, the Royal British Legion, a charity which provides support to members of the British Armed Forces and their families, created little silk poppies and sold them. The money went straight to supporting these soldiers. In 1922, a factory was opened to create even more of these poppies and the trend has continued to this day. Around the UK in the run up to 11th November, you’ll find many people wearing these poppies on their chest out of respect for those who lost their lives.
Remembrance activities vary from country to country. In the UK, the “Last Post” is traditionally played on a bugle with traditional songs, such as “I Vow To Thee My Country” and “Jerusalem” being heard throughout the day.