This past Sunday was Remembrance Day in the U.K. On Remembrance Day the country honors all those who fought in any wars, but in the World Wars, in particular. It is rather like Veterans Day in the United States, but there are, of course, some differences. The principal one I note, is that Remembrance Day seems to be more visible in the U.K.
Remembrance Day is observed in a few ways over here. The first, and most obvious sign, though, is the poppies. Around the end of October, beginning of November, the poppies will start appearing, small red cloth flowers with four petals and a black center, worn in the lapel.
The poppy is a symbol of remembrance here. It originates from the lines of a poem written about the first world war by Canadian solider John McCrae;
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow,
Between our crosses, row on row”
Poppies are one of those flowers that have seeds that lay dormant until the ground around them is disturbed - hence their prevalence on the field of battle.
An American woman named Moina Michael actually first connected the poppy with remembrance, wearing it in her lapel as a sign of solidarity and a symbol that those who fought were not forgotten. The American Legion took up the symbol, and then, eventually the British Legion, who now sell them over here to raise funds for their charitable work with veterans.
On Remembrance Day poppies are worn in lapels by individuals, and wreaths of poppies are purchased by organizations and laid at the tombs and memorials to soldiers. When one wears a poppy in the lapel on Remembrance Day it is a sign not only that those who fought are not forgotten, but of active support for them in the present day.
There are other signs and events of Remembrance Day. There are somber parades in the street. There is an unusual prevalence of people in uniform. In Edinburgh, the one o’clock gun from the castle booms at two minutes before eleven, and then at eleven on the dot, to mark two minutes of silence that should be taken to remember all those who have sacrificed. Frequently flags hang at half-mast, and in churches, a lone bagpiper will play.
Other than the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I am not able to think of one special occurrence in the United States for Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, besides the fact that recently Doonesbury instead of running a comic strip, has listed the names of those who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. But then, I have always felt the presence of the wars more over here (this despite the fact that I live near Arlington Cemetery). Most churches or historic sites display a plaque in memory of the fallen, or a book listing their names. And it is interesting that the poppy, which started out as an American symbol, is so much more prevalent over here.
Personally, I like the prominence Remembrance Day is given here. I believe it is important we take some time - even if it’s just one day a year, a small contribution, a few minutes of silence - to remember the sacrifices that are made in war. It is important not only for the sake of honoring those who have fought, but also to remember war - and it’s cost - as very real, immediate, and tangible. Something whose price is only to be paid when there is absolute need.
And there is something to be said for the honor of memory. For not letting the sacrifices others have made slip out of view, and out of mind. Even if it’s only for two minutes once a year. Even if it’s something as small as making a small contribution, wearing a poppy in your lapel. Showing that the sacrifices made by both those who are gone, and those who remain, are very much still relevant, appreciated, and remembered.