Today, the 11th of November, is Armistice Day, also known as Remembrance Day and Poppy Day, and is time to honour the countless lives lost by those in military service in the many wars since 1918 and the official end of World War I.
A 2 minute silence is usually observed on Armistice Day at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month and it formally marks the end of hostilities of World War I on that day in 1918, though a peace treaty, the Treaty of Versailles, was not signed until June 28th, 1919 which officially marks the end of the war.
The Service of Remembrance in many Commonwealth countries generally includes the sounding of the ‘Last Post’, followed by the period of silence, followed by the sounding of ‘The Rouse’ (often mistakenly referred to as ‘Reveille’), and finished by a recitation of the ‘Ode of Remembrance’. The ‘Flowers of the Forest’, ‘O Valiant Hearts’, ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country’ and ‘Jerusalem’ are often played during the service. Services also include wreaths laid to honour the fallen, a blessing, and national anthems.
The central ritual at cenotaphs throughout the Commonwealth is a stylised night vigil. The ‘Last Post’ was the common bugle call at the close of the military day, and the ‘Rouse’ was the first call of the morning. For military purposes, the traditional night vigil over the slain was not just to ensure they were indeed dead and not unconscious or in a coma, but also to guard them from being mutilated or despoiled by the enemy, or dragged off by scavengers. This makes the ritual more than just an act of remembrance but also a pledge to guard the honour of war dead. The act is enhanced by the use of dedicated cenotaphs (literally Greek for ’empty tomb’) and the laying of wreaths – the traditional means of signalling high honours in ancient Greece and Rome.
The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
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.
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