Remembrance Day is a memorial day, observed mainly in Commonwealth member countries, which has taken place since the end of the First World War. It seeks to remember and honour the members of the various armed forces who have died in the line of duty in that war and all subsequent conflicts.

In 1918, after four years of fighting, the Great War, more commonly referred to as the First World War, finally came to an end. The treaty, or armistice, which officially ended the conflict was signed in a railway carriage in the French forest known as the Forest of Compiegne. It was signed at 5am and came into effect some six hours later at 11am. Thus the war officially ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The first “Remembrance Day” was the following year, 1919. Whilst we now recognise November 11th as Remembrance Day this hasn’t always been the case. Until 1930 Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day as it was then known, was observed on the Monday of the week that November 11th fell. It was through an act of parliament in 1931 which not only approved the name change to that of Remembrance Day but also stipulated that this would henceforth be held on November 11th.

An integral part of the Remembrance Day ceremony is that of observing a two minute silence. This was as a result of a proclamation made by King George V in 1919 which stated that “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

A commonly accepted reason for a two minute silence, as opposed to a one minute silence, is that the first minute is to honour those who returned safely from conflicts whilst the second minute honours those who did not return.

A well known symbol associated with Remembrance Day is that of the red poppy. This is due to the poem “In Flanders Fields” which was penned by a Canadian doctor and physician called Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in 1915.  He was inspired to write the poem following the loss of a close friend in the war and subsequently observing red poppies growing in the battle scarred fields around him.

The Poppy Appeal is held in the UK each year in the weeks leading up to November 11th  to raise funds for the British Legion which offers help and care to the armed forces servicemen and women from the various conflicts that have occurred since the Great War

It isn’t just the United Kingdom that observes Remembrance Day. A number of other Commonwealth member states, for example Canada and Australia, observe the tradition on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Other nations observe a similar day albeit at different times of the year. New Zealand’s equivalent is called ANZAC Day and is observed on April 25th. In South Africa, Poppy Day as it is called, takes place on the Sunday that falls closest to November 11th.  Additionally a number of other countries that are not members of the Commonwealth also observe Remembrance Day on November 11th,  including France, Belgium and Poland. The United States also used to commemorate their Armistice Day on November 11th, however, in 1954 they changed the name to Veterans Day.

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