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The centenary of Remembrance Sunday in Britain was marred by coronavirus, especially the lockdown throughout England.

Nonetheless, ceremonies around the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland went ahead, thank goodness:

The main ceremony is held in London at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which you can watch in full. Even drastically pared down, it was beautiful whilst poignant:

I had no idea how small the march past would be until I saw it on BBC1. It was restricted to 26 people. Normally, there are 10,000.

So many veterans wanted to be in Whitehall on November 8, as General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr:

The general public were not allowed to gather at Horse Guards Parade, either. In fact, police did not want anyone in the near vicinity:

However, a group of veterans and members of the public gathered at the the Royal Artillery Memorial Hyde Park Corner, as a Conservative Woman post, ‘Remembrance under lockdown’, discusses. An excerpt and tweet follow:

One such event was organised by a group of veterans codenamed 08 1030Z NOV20, standing for 1030 Zulu (GMT) November 8, 2020. It is telling that even though Covid restrictions were followed, a detailed risk assessment completed and all the required precautions taken, they prefer to remain anonymous fearing establishment reprisal with the injustice of an undeserved £10,000 fine.

Veterans and members of the public including Laurence Fox, leader of the Reclaim Party, and Martin Daubney, former MEP and presenter of Unlocked formed up in Green Park and paraded to the Royal Artillery Memorial Hyde Park Corner. The parade was cheered along by the public and supported by the police who stopped traffic allowing a safe crossing across Duke of Wellington Place.

Now back to Whitehall.

The ceremony at the Cenotaph starts with the laying of the wreaths. The Royal Family begin, followed by politicians, then diplomats representing the Commonwealth countries.

Prince Charles has been laying the Queen’s wreath for a few years now. She watches from the balcony:

I did not like the military-style fringe epaulets on Kate Middleton’s coat, an Alexander McQueen design.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer and SNP Leader (Westminster) Ian Blackford laid their wreaths:

The Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, attended a ceremony in his constituency of Chorley, Lancashire, last week. On Sunday, he presented his wreath at the Cenotaph:

Here he is with Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords:

Political party leaders and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, are pictured in the first tweet below, along with the two Speakers:

Afterwards, a short religious service, led by the Bishop of London, takes place.

After it ends and the dignitaries around the Cenotaph leave, a military band plays a variety of music for the march past.

This must be a moving sight to contemplate:

Remembrance ceremonies took place elsewhere at the same time.

Dame Eleanor Laing MP attended a ceremony in her constituency, Epping Forest:

Remembrance Sunday is such an important day for so many — and not only those veterans who died in the Great War, but also the Second World War …

… and the many conflicts of our time.

I hope that 2021 will afford us the normal Remembrance Sunday celebrations.

Bob Moran drew this bittersweet cartoon for Remembrance Sunday for The Telegraph:

As Wednesday is November 11 — Armistice Day — millions of us will remember the gallant and brave efforts of those whom the Cenotaph commemorates: The Glorious Dead, who fought for our freedom and liberty.

In our year of coronavirus, I hope that our politicians restore those hallmarks of Western life — freedom and liberty — quickly next year.

May we never forget the sacrifices that so many soldiers made for our freedom.

As John Maxwell Edmonds poignantly wrote in 1916:

When you go Home, tell them of us and say,
For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today

He also wrote this epitaph, used as the theme for the 1942 war film, Went the Day Well?

Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.

The British Army has issued a poignant video of a soldier from the Great War returning home today, only to be ignored. It has a happy ending:

It received much positive comment, thankfully.

One of those comments concerns the proper placement of a poppy on one’s lapel. I did not know the significance of the green leaf and where it should be positioned:

On Monday, November 11, at 11:00 a.m., let us pause for two minutes of silence:

Mr Young forgot the Canadian flag, but point taken about troops from the Commonwealth countries who fought alongside the British for freedom.

We will remember.


(Forbidden Bible Verses will appear on Monday.)

November 11, 2018 marks the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Fittingly, it is Remembrance Sunday, commemorated in the UK and parts of the Commonwealth.

I have a number of Remembrance Day posts from previous years that readers might wish to peruse.

It is good that we still wear poppies, which come in for criticism every year, sadly. Alexander Owen, who served for 10 years in the Blues and Royals and now works at the Royal British Legion as Head of Armed Forces Engagement, recently wrote an article for The Independent‘s inews, excerpted below (emphases mine):

The ways that this generation changed our world are many and all-encompassing. War does not discriminate, and nor should the poppy.

The poppy has never been more inclusive, open and hopeful than in this Armistice Centenary Year. This November we should thank the entire generation of the First World War who served, sacrificed and changed our world, as this is the last chance to do so. But as a nation we must ensure that we follow the example they set 100 years ago and maintain the poppy as a symbol of hope and inclusivity. Wearing a poppy is a personal choice that must not be enforced. To do so would undermine its entire meaning.

It is sad that such an article even needs to be written. I also would have changed the word ‘should’ to ‘does’ in the first highlighted sentence.

That said, the Royal British Legion is helping to teach schoolchildren about the Great War, as it is also called, via a new book from author and playwright Michael Morpurgo:

Walter ‘Wally’ Randall, 103, is the nation’s oldest Poppy Appeal collector and has no intention of hanging up his collection tin just yet. The Royal British Legion reports:

He served in the service corps during World War Two before he later held the positions of both branch chairman and club chairman for the Leighton Buzzard Royal British Legion.

Wally is the proud recipient of a lifetime certificate for services to the local branch and has showed no signs of hanging up his collection tin yet.

He said: “I’m going to keep on selling poppies while I’ve still got the energy to do it. I’m lucky because I get to sit inside the entrance of Wilkos [a retail chain] in the warm.

He added: “My favourite thing about selling poppies is people’s generosity – when someone puts money in but says ‘I’ve already got a poppy’. It’s very gratifying.”

He appeared on morning television a few days ago:

A star-studded concert, the Festival of Remembrance, took place at Saturday night at the Royal Albert Hall:

Television adverts have appeared, thanking those who fought, died and innovated for their service, sacrifice and dedication:

The Duke of Cambridge offered this tribute:

Every One Remembered is an excellent site that has a photo montage of the British and Commonwealth men and women who died between 1914 and 1918.

Director Peter Jackson has taken painstaking time to colourise film from the Great War, which really reminds us of the truly personal — and deadly — story that it was:

There are also lesser known tragic stories, such as that of the Titanic newsboy:

A article, ‘May’s Armistice centenary tribute to First World War dead’s “immense sacrifices”‘, has a set of maps that shows how Europe’s national boundaries changed after 1918.

Prime Minister Theresa May was in France on Friday, November 9, to commemorate the war’s fallen with French President Emmanuel Macron. She also visited Belgium.

The article also highlights other ceremonies taking place this weekend in France and in London:

On Sunday, a bugle will sound at the French graveside of war poet Wilfred Owen, marking 100 years since his death on November 4 1918, just seven days shy of peace being declared.

Elizabeth Owen, the widow of his nephew Peter, will attend a ceremony in Ors, in the north of the country, where the instrument – which was taken from a dead German soldier – will be used to play The Last Post.

Meanwhile, at the Tower of London on Sunday evening, about 10,000 flames will be lit, in remembrance of those who fought and died in the war.

The light display installation, called Beyond the Deepening Shadow, will run each evening up to and including on Armistice Day.

The light installation at the Tower of London opened on Sunday, November 4. has more on the story, including photos:

Around 10,000 flames have filled the empty moat encircling the Tower of London to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

A ceremonial Beefeater guard began the lighting ceremony by bringing a flame down from the tower into the moat, which had been submerged in smoke.

Dozens of representatives from the armed forces and volunteers then used the flame to ignite thousands of other torches staked into or placed on the ground underneath the tower, bathing the barren moat in light …

It took around 45 minutes to light the flames, which then burn for roughly four hours.

The ceremony was accompanied by a specially commissioned sound installation featuring choral music, as well as words from war poet Mary Borden’s Sonnets To A Soldier.

The ceremony was “amazing”, according to Dick Harrold, governor of the Tower of London.

One hundred years after this horrific war ended — which saw the beginning of modern technical warfare — we seem to have forgotten the importance of war memorials, such as this one, which is being contested in the United States:

And we should think about what sort of children we have raised. Would they have been able to march to war, as 15- and 16-year-olds did a century ago — as volunteers?

In closing, there are two outcomes of the war that I remember reading about over the past four years, as each year from 2015 to 2018 in Britain has seen a number of documentaries, books and articles recalling what happened a century ago.

One result of the Great War was a generation of spinsters here in the UK and elsewhere. How heartbreaking it must have been not only for war widows but young women who lost their boyfriends and fiancés to brutal fighting on the front lines.

The second was a total transformation of house building here in the UK, as many traditional skills were no longer available because so many in those trades lost their lives on the battlefield.

We are currently redecorating our house, built at the turn of the last century. I look at the keyed lime plaster we are uncovering and say a prayer for those souls who so freely gave of their todays for our tomorrows. (Every man from the age of 15 to 50 was recorded under the Military Service Bill and, barring poor health, was potentially conscripted.)

Most certainly in our household we will remember.

May God bless ‘The Glorious Dead’, as inscribed on the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.

May we be eternally grateful for all their sacrifices for our freedom a century on.

Although November 11 is Remembrance Day, November 12, 2017 is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, making this a poignant weekend of remembrance.

The following are tweets on #Remembrance.

Before I get to them, November 10, 2017 marked the centenary of Passchendaele. Historian Dan Snow explains the final days. This is worth listening to:

The Royal British Legion website summarises this horrific months-long battle:

Fought between July and November 1917, Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, remains one of the most notorious battles of the First World War. In three-and-a-half months of fighting, an advance of less than five miles saw an estimated 550,000 Allied and German troops killed, wounded or lost.

Around 90,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were missing; 50,000 buried without being identified, and 42,000 never recovered from the Belgian fields of Flanders that turned into an ocean of mud.

The 100th anniversary of Passchendaele provides an opportunity to view WW1 in a new way and commemorate the Service and sacrifice of those who lost their lives.

The Irish Times has more, beginning with this:

In October 1917 the Canadian commander-in-chief Sir Arthur Currie arrived in Flanders to be told that his men would have to take the village of Passchendaele.

Currie was aghast at what his orders meant. After four months of fighting in terrible conditions, Flanders was a stinking sty of a place, a hellhole of water-filled craters, withered tree stumps and an ocean of mud.

Unburied bodies were everywhere. When the ground did not yield, soldiers knew they were walking on the corpse of a man.

Friend and foe alike were repulsed by the ghastly conditions in which the British and their Commonwealth allies were locked into a death grip with the German defenders. One Canadian infantryman said none acquainted with their ultimate goal expected to come back alive. “Each and every man felt it was a sure death trap”.

Ireland was still British then:

The last day of Passchendaele took a terrible toll on the Irish too. The 1st battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers was part of the 1st Division and it was pressed into the attack in support of the Canadians.

The Munsters’ official history recorded the men walking in the pitch dark and the pouring rain to their starting positions. The soil had the consistency of glue and yet the men were forced to carry with them a full marching pack, rations for three days, 150 rounds of ammunitions, two Mills bombs and two water bottles.

“Never have troops gone into action carrying a heavier load under worse conditions,” the history concludes. “They pressed forward in mud-bespattered, bloodstained, sodden groups.”

The attack began at 6am on November 10th, 1917, in the most horrendous conditions imaginable. The men were quickly up to their waists in mud.

We connect the Great War with poppies, thanks to In Flanders Fields, about which I wrote last year. John McCrea fought in the Second Battle of Ypres.

Hence their significance then — and now:

People from one town in the North East of England got together to knit poppies this year. This is a great video:

One lady in Doncaster crocheted poppies:

Here is a moving photo from the Second World War. In the midst of battle, these brave men took time to worship:

Men of faith fought and died for freedom:

They came from all over the Commonwealth:

Some people just don’t understand — including the Labour Party leader:

Yet, those who forget — or never learn their — history are doomed to repeat it.

The sacrifices were imponderable:

Those brave men and women gave their tomorrow for our today:

Which is why so many remembrance ceremonies take place around the world this time every year:

In closing:

(Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.)

poppy poppy flower flowerRemembrance Day — Armistice Day — falls on Friday, November 11 this year.

My posts from previous years explain the importance of this day:

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

The tomb of the Unknown Warrior

A prayer for Remembrance Day

The march past the Cenotaph in 2015 (this year it will be on Sunday, November 13)

In Flanders Fields by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae is arguably the best known poem to remember the dead from the Great War (1914-18).

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.

The poppy became the symbol of the Great War for two reasons: the popularity of In Flanders Fields and the fact that this flower was the first to grow on the graves of the fallen soldiers.

The Great War website tells us that McCrae (pictured at right) began drafting the poem on May 2, 1915 during the secondMajor John McCrae week of the Second Battle of Ypres:

John McCrae, was serving as a Major and a military doctor and was second in command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. The field guns of his brigade’s batteries were in position on the west bank of the Ypres-Yser canal, about two kilometres to the north of Ypres. The brigade had arrived there in the early hours of 23 April.

It is believed that the death of his friend, Alexis Helmer, was the inspiration for McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. The exact details of when the first draft was written may never be known because there are various accounts by those who were with McCrae at that time.

McCrae’s contemporaries gave three different accounts. One said he wrote it after Helmer’s burial as a means of consolation. Another said that he wrote it the day after his friend’s burial and noticed the poppies springing up around the various graves. The third, offered by McCrae’s commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Morrison, suggested that he wrote it while waiting for the arrival of two groups of wounded men at the first aid post, giving him time to experiment with the poem’s metre.

Lieutenant Alexis Helmer (source: A Crown of Life)Lieutenant Alexis Helmer (pictured at left) was only 22 when he died. The Great War tells us:

Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was an officer in the 2nd Battery, 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery and had become good friends with John McCrae. On the morning of Sunday 2 May Alexis left his dugout and was killed instantly by a direct hit from an 8 inch German shell. What body parts could be found were later gathered into sandbags and laid in an army blanket for burial that evening.

He was popular among his comrades and well educated:

Before the outbreak of war he had graduated from McGill University with a degree in Civil Engineering. He was the son of Elizabeth I. Helmer of 122, Gilmour St., Ottawa, and the late Brigadier General R. A. Helmer.

A burial ground from the First Battle of Ypres in 1914 was nearby. Helmer was buried there. In the absence of a chaplain, McCrae conducted the graveside service himself, using the burial rite from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. His grave was marked by a wooden cross.

By the time the Second Battle of Ypres ended, the field was filled with graves of Canadian and French casualties. This burial ground is now known as Essex Farm Cemetery.

Unfortunately, Helmer’s grave — along with 54,896 others — was lost. The names of these valorous men are listed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. Helmer’s name appears on Panel 10.


I hope we take time to keep silence at 11 a.m. on November 11 to remember not only the courageous men of the Great War but also those of the Second World War and subsequent wars.

We will remember.

poppy field


(Photo credits: [poppies] and The Great War [photos of McCrae and Helmer])

Remembrance Sunday, commemorated at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall, is always a moving experience, even if we watch it at home on BBC1.

This year, on November 8, 2015, 10,500 old soldiers, women’s auxiliaries, nurses, many others who served the United Kingdom in conflict and their families participated in the march-past.

One wreath-bearer was 100 years old. Another was 89, the youngest in his band of brothers from the Second World War. Yet another was blind. Those who could walk did so in military fashion. Those who were in wheelchairs sat up straight. Many of these men are elderly, some in great pain, no doubt. Yet, just as they did on the battlefield or on ship, they gave not a thought for themselves. They came to remember.

The array of berets, caps, medals, uniforms and wreaths is an incredible sight to behold. They really bring home a sense of history, heritage and shared memory that all these men and women have. Some make a weekend out of it, getting together with friends in the days beforehand to share a meal and remember their fallen comrades as well as the happier times.

The BBC’s Sophie Raworth interviewed a number of the veterans. One said that, during the two-minute silence, a flood of emotional memories raced through his mind: recalling friends who were killed, his relief at being liberated from a German POW camp in 1945 and the incredible joy he felt arriving home that year to embrace his family, whom he thought he’d never see again.

Others said that the two-minute silence completely enveloped Whitehall, seemingly unimaginable with the thousands of spectators lining the march-past route between the Cenotaph and Horse Guards Parade. It was solemn and sad. Yet, afterward, the veterans did as they always do, remember the good times, even in battle. Their comradeship, good humour and dignity are incredible things to see. We have been blessed to have their determination, integrity and courage. That goes doubly for those these 10,500 men and women travelled from far and wide — including Africa — to remember: those who gave their todays that we might have a tomorrow.

Like millions of other Britons, I wear my poppy with gratitude and reflection for those who died for our freedom.

May we never forget the sacrifices those brave men and women made on our behalf.

May we observe two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day, November 11 — Armistice Day — when the Great War came to an end. It had horrors no one could have contemplated. It was to be the war that ended all wars. And yet, the Second World War followed only two decades later.

In closing, if you have not seen a Remembrance Sunday ceremony, these two YouTube videos will give you a better idea of the sheer scale and ceremony involved.

The first is from 2014 and shows the beginning of the wreath laying, with the Queen placing the first at the foot of the Cenotaph:

The second shows the march-past — from 2011 — which follows the wreaths laid by the Queen, members of the Royal Family, politicians and Commonwealth dignitaries:

France has seen many commemorations of war in 2014. Not only is there the beginning of the Great War but also the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings. A number of leftist pundits have said, ‘Enough! How many more ceremonies do we need?’

French President François Hollande measured his words carefully this Remembrance Day:

To commemorate is not simply remembering the dead but also a reminder of our duty to work for peace, security, human rights and democracy. Every time that nationalism, hateful ideologies and separatism appear, we should remember the infernal spiral of the summer of 1914, because peace … is at the mercy of fanaticism. This is why we need the military in peacetime.

He went on to defend the French military’s presence in parts of Africa as well as in Iraq. Then, he spoke of French citizens:

Patriotism means never tiring of serving one’s country. Patriotism means talking about history in order to meet the future straight ahead. Patriotism isn’t nostalgia. It is a willingness. A willingness to put France first on the world stage by preserving her identity, that is, [as] a social republic. 

He ended by saying:

France is our inheritance. Europe is our future.

It should be noted that Hollande is the least popular president in French history. His approval rating is 12%. A banner demanding his resignation appeared during the ceremony. But I digress.

France has a more ambivalent remembrance of the Great War than other Allied countries. Perhaps this is because so much of the Western Front is in that country. These recent haunting photos show the battlefields which still bear visible scars from a century ago.

Historian Rémi Dalisson, a professor at the University of Rouen and author of a book about France and Remembrance Day, recently spoke with Le Monde. Dalisson unpacked the baggage surrounding the Great War. A summary and excerpts follow. Although this is French history, it also reflects what others in Allied countries no doubt also felt and partially explains the revisionism we have about the war today.

Dalisson said that November 11 became a national holiday in France in 1922, after four years of political debate. Veterans wanted the day to be an occasion to remember the horrors of the war and contemplate the loss of their comrades:

So, this meant that people would not be working that day and would come together to contemplate the patriotism of those who died for their country. [For the veterans], it was vital that communities come together to consider their [comrades’] sacrifices so that there would never be another war again. This day was intended to become as important as July 14 and Joan of Arc Day.

Le Monde asked about the latter, highjacked by the Front National in recent years, to the extent that many French believe that the authoritarian political party created the day themselves:

It wasn’t invented by the Front National but by the Third Republic on July 10, 1920. Set for the second Sunday in May, it is the national day of patriotism, of courage. Given priority by the Vichy government, it became obsolete after the Second World War … Joan of Arc Day is still widely observed, which says something about the relationship the French have with their commemorations.

This day of patriotism left November 11 as a day of contemplation. This was the official stance of the veterans who were witnessing for the future. There was to be no presidential speech because this was the day to remember those [soldiers] who died. We find this model in other countries, including Germany.

The professor discussed the occasional highjacking of November 11 ceremonies by radical groups on both sides of the political spectrum during the 1920s and 1930s.

Le Monde asked if November 11 was meant to boost the national morale. Dalisson replied:

As with July 14, the idea is not so much a national morale boost as it is unifying around a set of values …

With the ambiguity surrounding November 11, the state wants to fuse the nation together, but around which values? Pacifism or a triumphalist republic? We don’t really know …

Those questions also describe Britain. The important point is that everyone who has worn a poppy, watched war documentaries, watched the Remembrance Sunday ceremony or visited the field of poppies this year at the Tower of London can take away the message they wish. That said — and speaking personally — I hope that they also take time to consider the courage and valour of those who died in battle. Those two values are in short supply these days.

Back now to the interview. Dalisson said that it was French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who, in the 1970s, declared November 11 a day of remembrance of those who died not just in the Great War but also in the Second World War and subsequent conflicts. However, this proved controversial not only then but also in the subsequent Mitterand and Chirac administrations; from the 1980s onward, a number of government reports have complained of too many public holidays.

It was only in 2012, when Nicolas Sarkozy revived November 11, that it was once again considered as a national day of remembering the war dead.

Dalisson explained:

I think Giscard was fascinated by the Anglo-Saxons. There’s also a generational element. Giscard was born in 1926, ten years after Mitterand. For that generation, the Great War does not have the same resonance. There was also the idea of Europeanising national holidays, introducing different rituals. Equally, Giscard was following his political philosophy of bringing in change. He observed July 14 at the Bastille. He increased the singing of La Marseillaise. Many people didn’t go [to November 11 commemorations]. The memory of war was just too volatile.

The interviewer returned to discussing the national values and objectives of November 11. Here, Dalisson mentioned revisionism with regard to war dead:

The values of bravery and patriotic sacrifice were already being discussed the day after the Great War ended. For the veterans, what was important was the suffering and remembering the dead, not necessarily republican heroism.

Today, the myth of the Great War soldier has changed: it is no longer of the squaddie as triumphant hero but, rather, a victim … November 11 is becoming a public holiday of peace, like May 8, with a speech about Europe and the future. 

And that describes the speech Hollande gave.

Dalisson added that this year’s commemorations have had an international aspect to them, with dignitaries from non-European countries, e.g. New Zealand, participating. The emphasis, he says, is on the global involvement in the war.

The final question — also of interest to those of us who live in other Western countries — concerned the reasons why our perspective of the Second World War differs to that of the First (emphasis mine):

This is linked to current geopolitics: the rise of nationalism in Hungary, the situation in Ukraine. We have talked at length about the [centenary of the] assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 2014, where Bosnian Serbs refused to participate in official commemorations. The memory of the Great War reopens many wounds of [national] minorities. The problem of nationality, bottled up during the Communist era, is a resurgent one today. In this context, it is difficult to invite heads of state to Paris where the peace treaties were drawn up between 1919 and 1920. The Second World War is much easier to commemorate: we can gather everyone around the table to celebrate the victory over Nazism.  


The next set of posts on the Great War will appear, all being well, in November 1915. They will address how the British attitude towards this conflict changed between 1918 and the 1930s. The books and plays about the war which appeared during and after that decade appear to have shaped our national outlook permanently.

Yesterday, November 11, 2014, French talk radio host Eric Brunet (RMC) discussed and debated Remembrance Day with his guests — two historians — and several callers.

Remembrance Sunday

Brunet and his family were in London at the weekend to see our Remembrance Sunday commemoration in person. One of his callers also travelled from France to be in our capital on that day.

Both said how dignified the ceremony was. They discussed whether France should adopt a similar remembrance.

I have only ever seen it on the BBC. It is an incredibly moving commemoration such that I have watched it annually for nearly 25 years. To give my overseas readers an idea what it is like, the Daily Mail has an excellent article accompanied by a selection of photographs. You will feel as if you had been there.

The ceremony begins with a solemn remembrance of the soldiers for the first hour. Massed bands play classical dirges and laments, a two-minute silence is observed at 11 a.m. and wreaths are laid at the foot of the Cenotaph. The Queen lays the first wreath, followed by members of the Royal Family, who have all served in the Armed Forces or Royal Navy. The Prime Minister and political party leaders each present one, followed by the many Commonwealth High Commissioners. The Bishop of London conducts a brief service. Afterward, he, the Queen and dignitaries leave in silence.

The walk past of veterans then begins. The massed bands turn to upbeat, morale-boosting marches and popular songs from the First and Second World Wars. Each group presents a wreath to be laid at the Cenotaph.

The BBC’s David Dimbleby emphasised this year that this has never been a military march, but an opportunity for those who have served Britain to collectively remember their comrades who died in war and to share memories of the battlefield.

There has been talk now and then whether Remembrance Sunday should continue. However, several thousand veterans and bystanders attend every year. The televised broadcast lasts nearly two hours. This year, the centenary of the beginning of the Great War seems to have captured the public imagination. Not only did more than 10,000 veterans participate, many of them elderly, but thousands more spectators who lined the pavement.

Whilst the national remembrance takes place in London, smaller ceremonies and services take place up and down the country at local war memorials.

Should other countries like France adopt a similar ceremony to that at the Cenotaph? Remembrance Sunday is uniquely British. The French have their own commemorations. This year, President François Hollande was at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe before inaugurating a new, traditional monument at Notre Dame de Lorette, near the site of the three battles of Artois, which took place between 1914 and 1915. As many French soldiers died in those battles as in Verdun. The new monument lists the names of 580,000 troops from France and her colonies who died during the Great War.

The important thing is that we never forget. Ceremonies of remembrance help to keep these sacrifices of courage and valour intact.

Poppies or cornflowers?

In Britain, the tradition is for members of the public to wear poppies from the first of November through to Remembrance Day on the 11th. This tradition begins in October on television, particularly the BBC, where guests receive poppies prior to being interviewed. Whilst viewers have criticised this as overkill — why not just start in November, as is customary? — I find it useful to begin contemplating our national day of remembrance before the event.

In France, a few people wear cornflowers (bleuets) instead of poppies. This article from Le Monde shows François Hollande with one; note that the onlookers behind him are not wearing them.

In another article, Le Monde‘s Clément Martel explains why the French chose this wildflower, also present in the Great War battlefields. As we have the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, the French have ‘Bleuets de France‘. And there is more to the story:

… the cornflower is less well known in France than its British counterpart. In addition to being a symbol of life despite the many deaths, ‘cornflowers’ was the name given to new soldiers arriving in their still-immaculate sky blue uniforms. It was in 1925 when it became a symbol with an initiative from two nurses: Charlotte Malleterre et Suzanne Leenhardt created the ‘Bleuet de France‘, the proceeds of which would go to the upkeep of those injured in the Great War. Residents of Les Invalides [originally a military hospital, as its name implies] made cornflowers out of fabric …

Beginning in 1934, the flowers the veterans made were sold on the streets and, the following year, the government made official the sale of cornflowers on Remembrance Day … Since then, the cornflowers have been made by the disabled. If the tradition has been slowly lost, it came back in 2012, when Nicholas Sarkozy championed a law declaring that November 11 commemorate ‘the remembrance of all France’s [war] dead, not just those from the Great War’.

The difference in charitable giving differs dramatically between Britain, where poppies are de rigueur, and France, where the cornflower is worn much less often.

The paper reports that the British Legion collects the equivalent of €49.8m whereas the Bleuets de France makes only €1.1m.

Another commemoration which has captured France’s imagination is the dramatic field of poppies around the Tower of London, more about which in another post this week.

Before the Remembrance Sunday commemoration began on Sunday, November 9, 2014, the BBC’s David Dimbleby told viewers that, prior to the creation of the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall, many towns had small street shrines for the First World War dead and the actively serving members of the Armed Forces.

I’d not heard of street shrines before, although our community has one such which, long ago, was revised to list only the dead and not those who served and returned home.

In doing a bit of research, it transpires that many European and Anglo-Saxon nations also had memorials of varying sizes to remember their soldiers who served and died in the Great War, so-called because of its horrors and loss of life. A Wikipedia entry on World War I Memorials tells us (emphases mine below):

In Britain and Australia, early memorials were closely linked to the need to promote military recruitment and the state had an ambivalent attitude towards the informal memorials that emerged during the conflict. In Britain, stone memorials to the war began to be erected in towns and villages from 1915 onwards; some of these were given out by the state as rewards to communities for meeting military recruitment targets.[36] In Australia, the existing memorials to mark the Boer War were used initially used for commemorative ceremonies intended to increase military recruitment.[37] As casualties increased, rolls of honour listing the dead began to be displayed in Britain and honour tablets with the names of those who had enlisted were put up inside Australian buildings: Australia used these lists to apply moral pressure on those who were not yet joined up.[38] Informal memorials began to multiply as the war progressed. Local Australian groups erected small monuments, such as drinking fountains and stone pillars, to the point where the government became concerned about the expenditure on them and passed a law in 1916 to control their numbers.[39] In Britain, some Anglican church leaders began to create street war shrines to the dead. These cheap, local memorials were mainly constructed in working class districts, often built from wood and paper, and were used for holding short services in honour of the dead and to hold donations of flowers.[40] They were criticised, however, as promoting Catholic ritualism.[40] Official support for the shrines only came after a national newspaper campaign, efforts by the Lord Mayor of London and a well-publicised visit from Queen Mary to a shrine, and standardised stone shrines then began to replace the earlier, temporary versions.[41]

Across the German Empire nagelfiguren, war memorials made from iron nails embedded in wood, became popular, particularly in Austria.[42] These took various forms, including knights, shields, eagles and crosses, as well as submarines.[43] This practice had medieval origins, and the memorials were reinforced by the promotion of burgfrieden during the war, a medieval pact in which disparate German communities would put aside their differences during a conflict.[44] In some cases, relatives of the deceased were encouraged to hammer memorial nails in as part of the ceremonies, while children might be encouraged to read out poems in a medieval style.[45] At some nagelfiguren a charge was made for each nail used, with the revenues donated to charities supporting soldiers, orphans and others affected by the conflict.[43]

In Britain, the shrines were, at times, problematic. A history of the shrine at Christ Church, Watford, says that the Church of England supported the shrines:

The Church of England actively promoted street shrines during the war.2 They provided a means of expressing and mobilising collective emotions and values, and helped to recruit support for the Church as well as the war effort.3

That said, as the Telegraph‘s Christopher Howse wrote in 2009:

This did not come without controversy. Prayers for the dead went against the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. J H Kensit of the Protestant Truth Society said that the shrines inspired idolatry, and he made a protest at the unveiling of a shrine at St Bartholomew the Great in 1917. Kensit was taken for a pacifist and nearly set upon by the crowd.

Overall, however, the shrines, as Howse heard in a lecture by University of Kent historian Mark Connelly, were popular and united people:

Such shrines attracted, too, the interest of Catholics and Jews in the East End at a time when joint prayers by people of different faiths were not countenanced. “Once when a shrine was dedicated in Bethnal Green,” Elma Paget wrote, “the street was crowded from end to end with women, bare-headed Englishmen, and head-covered Jews. The Bishop, after giving the blessing in English, turned to the Jews, thanked them for joining in, and then gave the blessing in Hebrew.”

Unlike today, clergymen, especially Anglicans, considered the Great War to be a just war:

The Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, believed the war was a sacred cause. Speaking at a shrine at Prestons Road, Poplar, he said: “This nation had never done a more Christ-like thing than when it went to war in August 1914.”

The shrine from East London pictured at the top of this post comes courtesy of the Friends of Stoneham Park shown in an article which discusses the restoration of their own community’s shrine, a standalone stone structure.

The Friends of Stoneham Park explain:

The first street shrine was built in mid 1916 in South Hackney in London. The subsequent movement was prompted by a series of articles in the London Evening News, and by the support of Selfridges department store. The wartime evangelism of the Church of England played a significant role. After Queen Mary visited the East End shrines, the movement spread rapidly thoughout the country. So popular was the concept, that standard shrines were soon commercially available.

Their account and Wikipedia’s differ as to whether the first shrine went up in 1915 or 1916. However:

These wayside shrines, at first makeshift, were often sited away from the usual places of worship, and were most common on city streets. Significantly – and unlike, for instance, later civic war memorials – the shrines commemorated men from small geographical areas, and from very close-knit communities. The shrines usually comprised fresh flowers, the Union Jack and other flags, a cross or crucifix, and sometimes appropriate patriotic or sentimental engravings cut from magazines.

It is unclear just how they originated, although, as with the aforementioned smaller German memorials, an atavistic yearning for the ancient past could have played a part:

The shrines were a spontaneous phenomenon, perhaps tapping into folk memories of flower-decked holy wells.  

However, it could also have been letters home from the troops which led to their creation:

one writer suggested that soldiers fighting overseas in Catholic districts had been impressed by how providence seemed to preserve many crosses and shrines amidst the devastation of war, leading them ‘to desire for their own land the blessing of similar wayside crosses.’

Townswomen were in charge of decorating and maintaining street shrines in Britain.

Larger standalone shrines soon came under the scrutiny of artists and craftsmen to ensure they were aesthetically pleasing and durable structures:

In 1916, the missionary Civic Arts Association was formed out of the Art Workers Guild, to promote ‘the utilization for Civic purposes of the Arts and Crafts throughout the country’. This self-appointed ‘committee of taste’ was concerned during WW1 that war shrines and memorials should be well designed and of good quality and materials. The CAA organised a competitive exhibition of war memorials in 1916 (in which the sculptor Eric Gill won second prize), and published two pamphlets providing guidance for the making of shrines, written by the architects Edward Warren (1856-1937) and George Jack (1855-1931).

It wasn’t long before Britons wanted small memorials for the home. Here, the Civic Arts Association also played a role:

In 1916, the Civic Arts Association had invited competition entries for designs for ‘Inexpensive Memorials for “The Home”‘. This idea was properly realised by the Goverment in 1918 with the bronze ‘Next of Kin Memorial Plaque’, or ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, a momento given to the families of every soldier or sailor who died in the war, sent out with an illuminated scroll and printed letter from the King. Perhaps these items were born out of the shrine movement. If so, then it is appropriate that many people made domestic shrines around these plaques, arranged together with the deceased’s medals and photographs.

After the war, some shrines fell into disrepair. The Great War brought an untold amount of bloodshed for the era. The Friends of Stoneham Park surmise that the shrines reminded mourners of their loss, still very much at the forefront of their minds. By the end of the Second World War, many Great War shrines had disappeared because of neglect. Some were moved into the local Anglican church, Watford’s being one of these. (The names were repainted to include only the war dead.) Others had been replaced by a stone cross memorial, often seen in the centre of many British towns and villages. It is at these monuments where annual Remembrance Sunday services are still held today.

And now onto the Cenotaph‘s history. David Dimbleby told viewers that after the war thThe Cenotaph, Whitehall, Londone first military walk past was along Whitehall. An empty coffin was placed in the road. The men in uniform passed it during their commemorative march.

Photos of the walk past and the empty coffin appeared in newspapers and magazines. They gripped the public’s imagination and an appeal was launched for a permanent monument in Whitehall to honour the glorious dead. Sir Edwin Lutyens was asked to design a wood and plaster cenotaph.

In 1919, the present stone Cenotaph (pictured) was built, a project which Lutyens also supervised. It has the same design as his earlier structure and is the central monument for the annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony in London.

The British and citizens of many Commonwealth countries wear poppies in the days leading up to November 11, recalling the Armistice signed on that day at the 11th hour in 1918.

Americans also wear poppies, but on Memorial Day, formerly Decoration Day, the last Monday in May. The day was May 30 until the 1968 Uniform Holidays Bill transferred some public holidays to the closest Monday, enabling three-day weekends. Decoration Day began as a remembrance of Civil War dead. After the end of the First World War, the emphasis changed.

Remembrance Day and Memorial Day both recall the sacrifices of those who died in military service to their respective countries.

The poster below comes from Hallee the Homemaker’s website, which discusses the immortal poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’ by a Canadian, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD. The poem inextricably links fields of poppies with the soldiers and officers who died there. McCrae wrote the poem after burying a fellow lieutenant in the Canadian Army.


On Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day, religious services recall our war dead. Below is an Act of Remembrance from the Arthur Rank Centre. After the memorial wreath has been placed, the clergyperson leading the service recites it, and the congregation responds at the end:

Let us remember before God,
and commend to his sure keeping
those who have died for their country in war;
those whom we knew,
and whose memory we treasure;
and all who have lived and died
in the service of their fellows,
seeking justice and peace.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
we will remember them.
We will remember them.

I hope that those in Britain and other nations where Remembrance Day is observed will have an opportunity to observe the customary two-minute silence and give thanks to God for those men and women who, in courage and valour, gave their lives that we might have our freedom today.

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