I have noticed that not every country wears poppies on Remembrance Day, and it made me wonder where and how the idea originated. Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth member states, since the end of the First World War, to honour armed forces members who have died in the line of duty.
It began following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919, and is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. In most countries, Remembrance Day is observed on the 11th of November, to recall the end of the First World War hostilities. Conflicts formally ended ‘at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month’ of 1918, in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Allies between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. ("At the 11th hour" refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 am.) The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.
Initially, Armistice Day was observed at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a ‘Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic’, during the evening hours of November 10th, 1919. The first official Armistice Day was subsequently held on the following morning, on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. During the Second World War, many countries changed the name of this day. Member states of the Commonwealth of Nations adopted Remembrance Day, while the US chose Veterans Day.
The common British, Canadian, South African, and ANZAC tradition, includes one or two minutes of silence at the eleventh hour, as that marks the time (in the United Kingdom), when the armistice became effective. In Australia, however, the date drifted until 1997, when the Governor-General proclaimed that November 11th of each year, shall be known and observed as Remembrance Day.
In Barbados, Remembrance Day is not a public holiday, but is recognized on the 11th of November. Parades and ceremonial events are carried out on Remembrance Sunday. The day is celebrated to recognize the Barbadian soldiers who died fighting in the First and Second World Wars.
Bermuda, which sent the first colonial volunteer unit to the Western Front in 1915, and which had more people per capita in uniform during the Second World War than any other part of the Empire, considers Remembrance Day as an extremely important day.
In Canada, Remembrance Day is a statutory holiday in all three territories, and in six of the ten provinces. Nova Scotia recognizes the day separately under their provincial Remembrance Day act, but Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec do not treat the day as an official holiday in any capacity.
In India, the day is usually marked by tributes and ceremonies in army installations, as well as a few memorial services in some churches. In Kenya, the Kenya Armed Forces Old Comrades Association, was established in 1945 to cater for the welfare of the Ex-servicemen of the First and the Second World Wars.
New Zealand's national day of remembrance is Anzac Day, which falls on the 25th of April. The reason for New Zealand having it then, happened in 1921, when the paper poppies for Armistice that year, arrived by ship too late for November 11. Instead they were distributed at the next commemoration date, which happened to be Anzac Day. The date stuck as the new Poppy Day in New Zealand.
Madame Anna Guérin of France, conceived the idea for the Remembrance Poppy. She was inspired by John McCrae’s poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’. Originally Madame Guérin founded a charity to help rebuild regions of France torn apart by the First World War, and created poppies made of fabric to raise funds. Later, she presented her concept to France’s allies, including the precursor to The Royal Canadian Legion, The Great War Veterans Association. The idea was considered at a meeting in Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay), and was adopted on July 6, 1921.
Today, the poppy is worn each year during the Remembrance period to honour Canada's fallen. The Legion also encourages the wearing of a poppy for the funeral of a veteran, and for any commemorative event honouring fallen veterans. It is not inappropriate to wear a poppy during other times to commemorate fallen veterans, and it is an individual choice to do so, as long as it’s worn appropriately.
The list of countries celebrating Poppy Day or Remembrance Day is long, with a total of 11 countries within the British Commonwealth, and 13 countries outside of the Commonwealth.
Wherever you are, or whatever you believe, remembering those who gave the ultimate cost for our freedom is a small sacrifice to make.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.