The history of Remembrance

It is 97 years today since Britain first came to a standstill in honour of those who lost their lives in conflict starting with the First World War.

Remembrance Sunday, which always falls on the second Sunday in November, is a day for the nation to remember and honour those who have sacrificed themselves in conflicts - including the Second World War, the Falklands War, the Gulf War and conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq - to secure and protect our country’s freedom.

The National Service of Remembrance, held at The Cenotaph in Whitehall today, ensures that no-one is forgotten as the nation unites to honour all who have suffered or died in war.

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The Queen will pay tribute alongside Members of the Cabinet, Opposition Party leaders, former Prime Ministers, the Mayor of London and other ministers. Representatives of the Armed Forces, Fishing Fleets and Merchant Air and Navy will be there, as well as faith communities and High Commissioners of Commonwealth countries.

The history of the poppy

The poppy has a long association with Remembrance Day. But how did the distinctive red flower become such a potent symbol of our remembrance of the sacrifices made in past wars?

Scarlet corn poppies (popaver rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe. The destruction brought by the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th Century transformed bare land into fields of blood red poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers.

In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were once again ripped open as World War One raged through Europe’s heart. Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields.

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The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realised by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in World War One and later conflicts. It was adopted by The Royal British Legion as the symbol for their Poppy Appeal, in aid of those serving in the British Armed Forces, after its formation in 1921.

Why do we hold a two minute silence?

The first two minute silence in Britain was held on 11 November 1919, when King George V asked the public to observe a silence at 11am.

This was one year after the end of the First World War. He made the request so “the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”