On Sunday, November 11th, 2018 it will be exactly 100 years since the signing of the armistice that marked the end of the First World War. Many people are unaware that this year’s Remembrance Day marks such a major milestone. This is likely because the vast majority of Canadians no longer seem to know if they had a relative who served in the war. Canada’s last veteran of WWI died in 2010.
It was on November 11th, 1919, that King George V inaugurated a lasting tradition. Since that time, we observe two minutes of silence at precisely 11 a.m. local time. This takes place across the Commonwealth and the Empire. Canada followed The King’s decision by declaring November 11th as Armistice Day. Over the years, November 11th has since become more commonly known as Remembrance Day.
Canada Honors Remembrance Day
The WWI victory came at a heavy cost to Canada. From a meager population of about 7.8 million, Canada placed approximately 620,000 men and women into uniform. Almost 10 percent were lost.
Although several Canadian provinces have always honored November 11th as a holiday, it wasn’t until March 1, 2018 that an Act to amend the Holidays Act received royal approval and became national law. The passing of this legislation, confirming Statutory status, now includes the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador. This year, the 100th anniversary makes Remembrance Day a legal Canadian holiday, no different from Canada Day and Victoria Day.
November 11th Recognition
Throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, November 11th is observed as a distinctive day of memorial. November 11th has also come to mark the acknowledgment of war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. Remembrance Day not only commemorates the end of fighting in World War I but also recognizes all our of armed forces who have died in the line of duty since 1918.
This Sunday, across the world, a Two Minute Silence at 11:00 am will be observed at war memorials and other public spaces. This hour honours the time when hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”.
The Remembrance Poppy
Informally, Remembrance Day is sometimes referred to as Poppy Day. The red poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day thanks to the poem “In Flanders Fields“. This poem was written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.
An American professor who was very moved by reading the Canadian poem, wrote her own poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith.” She swore to wear a red poppy on the anniversary. Since that time, wearing a red poppy has become an important symbol of Remembrance Day. It is worn by millions of people around the world every year. The brilliant red colour of the poppies has become a symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
Remembrance in the United Kingdom
On the second Sunday of each November, The Queen leads her nation in remembering those who have died in world wars and other conflicts. This year, the second Sunday will fall on the 11th of November.
The bells of Big Ben will toll at 11:00 am and a single gun on Horse Guards Parade will be fired ahead of the two minutes of silence. A last round of gunfire will signify the end of the silence before a bugle call (‘The Last Post’) is played. Her Majesty will then carry a wreath to lay at the foot of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. High Commissioners from the Commonwealth will follow with the laying of further wreaths of poppies.
In 2014, a massive display of 888,246 ceramic poppies was installed in the moat of the Tower of London with each poppy representing a British Empire fatality.
In London, former Army sergeant Ron Freer, a blind 103-year-old former prisoner of war will be the oldest veteran to march at the Cenotaph as the nation marks the centenary of Armistice. He will lead more than 100 comrades who also lost their sight when he attends the memorial in London on Sunday.
London taxi companies will be providing a free service to the ceremonies for all war veterans.
Veterans Day – American Remembrance
In the United States, November 11th Armistice Day was renamed in 1954 following the Korean War. Now named Veterans Day Americans will honour all of their veterans who have perished or survived American wars. They will also salute members who serve in peacetime.
Remembrance Day statistics from recent Canadians surveys:
- 80% cent of Canadians are planning to commemorate Remembrance Day in some way this year, down from 86 percent last year
- Younger Canadians are even less likely to have Remembrance Day in mind, with 72 percent of people under the age of 35 saying they expect to mark the occasion in some way
- Alberta and the Atlantic provinces lead the way on Remembrance Day participation, with 91 percent of respondents there saying they plan to partake
- In Quebec, that number drops to 50 percent
- 59% of Canadians plan to purchase a poppy, down from 70 percent in 2017
- 46 % expect to observe a moment of silence
- War 1 began on July 28, 1914. The conflict lasted four years, three months and 14 days, ending on November 11, 1918
- The Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France.
- The agreement was signed by German, French, and British representatives, at 5:00 am on the morning of November 11th, 1918. The Armistice itself began 6 hours later at 11:00 am.
- On the 11th day, of the 11th month, at 11:00 am, we pause to remember the sacrifice of those who fought for our freedom and peace.
- Germany had no realistic hopes of winning the war, they had no enemies within their borders and still had troops in enemy territory.
- The First World War was hailed as the war to end all wars.
- There is no ‘correct’ way to wear a poppy. It is a matter of personal choice whether an individual chooses to wear a poppy and how they choose to wear it.
Despite our common history, Remembrance Day has evolved in different ways around the world. Depending on where you are in the world, it may be known as Armistice Day, Veterans’ Day, Remembrance Day, Poppy Day and in some cases, may not even be celebrated on 11th November.
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.