Posted on 8 November 2016
In the year 1919, King George V, uncle of Queen Elizabeth, presided over the inaugural Remembrance Day ceremony. The ceremony was originally practiced by members of the Commonwealth of Nations, to recognise the ceasefire of World War I, on the Western Front at 11:00 AM on November 11, 1918: the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month. WWI officially ended on June 28, 1919, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
An interesting coincidence is that November 11 is also the day that Catholics recognise Saint Martin of Tours. Saint Martin, born in the year 316, was released from the Roman Army due to his pacifist stance. Peace and non-violence was the hallmark of Saint Martin’s career in the Church.
In Canada, from 1921 to 1931, Remembrance Day and Thanksgiving Day shared the same day. Since 1931, Canadian Thanksgiving Day has been in October.
Remembrance Day has come to be practiced in non-Commonwealth countries, and now includes the honouring of all fallen soldiers to date. Depending on the country, this day of remembrance is known as Armistice Day, Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day or Poppy Day.
The poppy was a common plant that grew wild along many parts of the Western Front during WWI. In his poem, “In Flanders Fields,” Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, mentioned this flower. He wrote the poem following the funeral of his friend who died in battle, in 1915. Although McCrae did not like the poem, it was published that same year and became hugely popular. “In Flanders Fields” led to the poppy becoming the symbol of remembrance that it is today.
US President Woodrow Wilson used the term ‘the war to end war’, positioning America’s entry into WWI as a move to end that terrible conflict. The phrase became ‘the war to end all wars’ and took on a sardonic tone as it became apparent that WWI was not going to be the war to end all wars.
The Second World War followed shortly after the first, and there have been major conflicts since, with no assurance that there won’t be another again in the future.
Today, we use Remembrance Day as an opportunity to not only honour those that have fallen in battles past, but to contemplate what we can do as individuals, and as a nation, to avoid wars in the future.
Take time out of your day, this November 11, and participate in a Remembrance Ceremony near you: