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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.)

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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:

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.

We will remember.

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Lest we forget.

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