Lest We Forget

by MSO

This bronze book of "In Flanders Fields" is part of the memorial to John McCrae at his birthplace in Guelph, Ontario.

Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Veterans Day and Poppy Day are names of the same memorial day that was originally chosen to mark the end of World War I. The war was formally ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when Germany signed the Armistice.

Remembrance Day is observed primarily in Commonwealth countries and includes national ceremonies which begin with two minutes of silence in remembrance of those who lost their lives serving their country.

The Manchester Guardian published this account of the first two minutes of silence observed in 1919. “The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect. The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition. Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.”

United States President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed Armistice Day for November 11, 1919 with these words, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

In 1953, Alvin King, who was the owner of a shoe repair shop in Emporia, Kansas believed that Armistice Day should be turned into an “All” Veterans Day. The Chamber of Commerce took up his cause and surveyed area businesses on whether they would be willing to close their businesses for the day to honor all veterans. Support was gained on the state level and President Dwight Eisenhower replaced “Armistice” with “Veterans” and the bill was signed into law.

The remembrance poppy originated in the United States in 1920 and was inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields which was written by a Canadian doctor and Lieutenant Colonel John McRae. He wrote the poem in 1915 after witnessing the death of a friend during World War I. In 1918 Moina Michael who worked for the American YMCA read McCrae’s poem. She vowed to always wear a red poppy to honor those who had served in the war. She attended a War Secretaries Conference in November of 1918 wearing a red silk poppy and handed out 25 that she had made. For the next two years she campaigned to make the poppy a national symbol of remembrance and in 1920 the National American Legion adopted the poppy as its official symbol. By 1921 the poppy was the symbol for veterans groups in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Read more:

In Flanders Fields

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