Remembrance Day (11 November) marks the anniversary of the armistice which ended World War One in 1918. Since then, the day has been observed in many countries, particularly Commonwealth countries, to remember those who had died in conflicts since World War One.
Edward George Honey, an Australian journalist working in London, first proposed, in a letter published in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919, a period of silence as part of the commemorative ceremony to mark the first anniversary at the new Cenotaph in London in 1919. Honey had also served during World War One with the British Army before receiving a medical discharge. Honey felt that it was more appropriate to commemorate the war dead with a bitter-sweet silence, instead of celebrations.
At about the same time, Sir James Percy FitzPatrick, a South African mining financier, also came up with a similar idea, which was forwarded to King George V of England.
The proposal was subsequently endorsed by the British government. After assessing the practicality of a five minutes’ silence – a trial was conducted with five Grenadier Guardsmen standing to attention for the silence – it was decided that a two-minute silence would be more feasible. After that, King George V issued a proclamation on 7 November 1919, calling all the people of the British Empire to suspend their normal activities for two minutes on the hour of the armistice (11 a.m.) on 11 November. His proclamation requested that “all locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead”.
The practice of the two minutes' silence was very well-received by the public and it soon became a central feature of commemorations on Armistice Day.
After the end of the Second World War in 1945, Armistice Day was renamed as Remembrance Day, as it was now meant to commemorate all those who had died in conflicts since World War One. The current tradition of observing either one or two minutes of silence also varies from country to country. The silence is usually observed at war memorials, cenotaphs and religious services throughout the country.
On Remembrance Day, people usually wear artificial poppies on their clothes or place them at war memorials. The use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance arises from a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who served and died in World War One. The poem, In Flanders Fields, describes the poppies growing in the Flemish graveyards where soldiers were buried. The poem’s first stanza is
“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
Scare heard amid the guns below.”
Special church services are also be organized. Besides the observance of a period of silence, the fourth verse of the Ode of Remembrance is read. After the service, wreaths are laid at war memorials. This is an ode from Laurence Binyon’s poem, For the Fallen, which was first published in September 1914.
“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.”