Remembrance in the United Kingdom
Remembrance Day (also known informally as Poppy Day owing to the tradition of the remembrance poppy) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.
Following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in most countries to recall the end of hostilities of the First World War on that date in 1918.
Hostilities formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month", in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany & the Entente between 5:12 & 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.
The tradition of Remembrance Day evolved out of the Armistice Day. The first Armistice Day was observed at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a "Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic" on 10 November 1919. The first official Armistice Day was held on the grounds of Buckingham Palace the following morning.
Wreath-laying ceremonies, usually organised by local branches of the Royal British Legion, are observed on Remembrance Day at most war memorials across the UK at 11 am on 11 November, with two minutes of silence observed.
The silence is also broadcast as a special programme on BBC with a voice over usually saying "This is BBC One. Now on the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month. The traditional two minute silence for Armistice Day." The programme starts with a close up of the Big Ben clock chiming 11. The programme ends with a bugler sounding The Rouse & then normal programming is resumed. Many employers & businesses across the UK invite their staff & customers to observe the two minutes' silence at 11:00 am. The beginning & end of the two minutes' silence is often marked in large towns & cities by the firing of ceremonial cannon
NATIONAL SERVICE OF REMEMBRANCE AT THE CENOTAPH
In the United Kingdom, the main observance is Remembrance Sunday, is held on the Sunday nearest to 11 November.
The National Service of Remembrance, held at The Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday, ensures that no-one is forgotten as the nation unites to honour all who have suffered or died in war.
The Cenotaph: Her Majesty the Queen steps back to pay her respects after laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, during the Remembrance Sunday service.
His Majesty The King will pay tribute alongside Members of the Cabinet, Opposition Party leaders, former Prime Ministers, the Mayor of London & other ministers. Representatives of the Armed Forces, Fishing Fleets & Merchant Air & Navy will be there, as well as faith communities & High Commissioners of Commonwealth countries.
The Cenotaph in Whitehall is the site of the annual National Service of Remembrance, held at 11.00.am on Remembrance Sunday.
Originally conceived as a temporary structure for the London Victory Parade by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1919, a permanent design made from Portland stone was built in 1920, undecorated except for a carved wreath on each end & the words "The Glorious Dead".
Taken from the Greek for ‘empty tomb’, a cenotaph is a tomb or monument erected to honour a person or group of persons whose remains are elsewhere.
Flags flanking the sides of The Cenotaph since 2007 represent the Royal Navy, the British Army, the Royal Air Force, & the Merchant Navy.
TWO MINUTE SILENCE
Each year at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we observe a Two Minute Silence. Armistice Day on 11 November marks the end of the First World War & is a day to remember & honour those who have paid the price for our freedom.
The Poppy Appeal
The Poppy Appeal is the Royal British Legion’s biggest fundraising campaign held every year in November, the period of Remembrance.
WHY DOES THE ACT OF REMEMBRANCE MATTER
Great Britain still believes strongly in remembering those who fought not only in both World Wars, as since 1945 more than 12,000 British Servicemen & women have been killed or injured.
The Royal British Legion supports silences observed during both Remembrance Sunday services & on 11 November, Armistice Day, itself. The act of Remembrance rightly has a place in - & impact on - our lives, no matter which day of the week it might fall upon.
HOW TO OBSERVE THE TWO MINUTE SILENCE AT
At 11am, the Last Post is played
The exhortation is then read (see below)
The Two Minute Silence then begins
The end of the silence is signalled by playing the Reveille
"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."
Response: "We will remember them."
The inspiration behind the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance.
WHAT THE POPPY MEANS
The poppy is
A symbol of Remembrance & hope
Worn by millions of people
Red because of the natural colour of field poppies
The poppy is NOT
A symbol of death or a sign of support for war
A reflection of politics or religion
Red to reflect the colour of blood
Wearing a poppy is a personal choice & reflects individual & personal memories. It is not compulsory but is greatly appreciated by those it helps – the Royal British Legions beneficiaries: those currently serving in our Armed Forces, veterans, & their families & dependants.
THE STORY OF POPPY
In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields to write a now famous poem called 'In Flanders Fields'. After the First World War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance.
History of the Poppy
During the First World War (1914–1918) much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. Previously beautiful countryside was blasted, bombed & fought over, again & again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud: bleak & barren scenes where little or nothing could grow.
Bright red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) however, were delicate but resilient flowers & grew in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of chaos & destruction. In early May 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies to write a now famous poem called 'In Flanders Fields'.
McCrae’s poem inspired an American academic, Moina Michael, to make & sell red silk poppies which were brought to England by a French woman, Anna Guérin. The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies & sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately & that first ever 'Poppy Appeal' raised over £106,000; a considerable amount of money at the time. This was used to help WW1 veterans with employment & housing.
In 1922 Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory to employ disabled ex-Servicemen. Today, the factory & the Legion's warehouse in Aylesford produces millions of poppies each year.
The demand for poppies in England was so high that few were reaching Scotland. Earl Haig's wife established the 'Lady Haig Poppy Factory' in Edinburgh in 1926 to produce poppies exclusively for Scotland. Over 5 million Scottish poppies (which have four petals & no leaf unlike poppies in the rest of the UK) are still made by hand by disabled ex-Servicemen at Lady Haig's Poppy Factory each year & distributed by our sister charity Poppyscotland.
Today, poppies are mostly used in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia & New Zealand, to commemorate their servicemen & women killed in all conflicts.
THE POEM by John McCrae
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
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
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' Fields.
The image of Lord Kitchener was iconic; seen here on the front page of a magazine as drawn by Alfred Leete (1882–1933)
First World War in numbers 1914-18
1,115,000 - British & Commonwealth deaths.
750,000+ British deaths.
160,000 wives lost their husbands.
300,000 children lost their fathers.
710,000 British Army personnel including reserves at the beginning of 1914.
80,000 regular troops available at the beginning of 1914.
5,000,000+ British Armed Forces personnel had joined up by the end of the war in 1918.
2.67 million of these were 'Volunteers'.
2.77 million were conscripts.
250,000 underage boys volunteered, either by lying about their age or giving false names, to which recruiters often turned a blind eye.
1.5 million men were "starred": kept in essential occupations such as coal mining.
40 percent of the volunteers were rejected for medical reasons. Malnutrition was widespread in society, working class 15‑year‑olds had a mean height of 160 cm, while the upper class was 171 cm.
A History of Remembrance in the United Kingdom - Royals during the First World War
Prince Albert, later George VI. From 1909, Prince Albert attended the Royal Naval College, Osborne, as a naval cadet. In 1911 he came bottom of the class in the final examination, but despite this he progressed to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. When his grandfather, Edward VII, died in 1910, Albert's father became King George V. Edward became Prince of Wales, with Albert second in line to the throne.
Albert spent the first six months of 1913 on the training ship HMS Cumberland in the West Indies and on the east coast of Canada. He was rated as a midshipman aboard HMS Collingwood on 15 September 1913, & spent three months in the Mediterranean. His fellow officers gave him the nickname "Mr. Johnson".
The First World War broke out 28 July 1914 a year after his commission. He was mentioned in despatches for his action as a turret officer aboard Collingwood in the Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916), an indecisive engagement with the German navy that was the largest naval action of the war. He did not see further combat, largely because of ill health caused by a duodenal ulcer, for which he had an operation in November 1917.
In February 1918 he was appointed Officer in Charge of Boys at the Royal Naval Air Service's training establishment at Cranwell. With the establishment of the Royal Air Force two months later & the reassignment of Cranwell from Admiralty to Air Ministry responsibility, Albert transferred from the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force. He served as Officer Commanding Number 4 Squadron of the Boys' Wing at Cranwell until August 1918, before reporting to the RAF's Cadet School at St Leonards-on-Sea. He completed a fortnight's training & took command of a squadron on the Cadet Wing.
In February 1918 the Prince was appointed Officer in Charge of Boys at the Royal Naval Air Service's training establishment at Cranwell. With the establishment of the Royal Air Force two months later and the reassignment of Cranwell from Admiralty to Air Ministry responsibility, Albert transferred from the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force. He served as Officer Commanding Number 4 Squadron of the Boys' Wing at Cranwell until August 1918, before reporting to the RAF's Cadet School at St Leonards-on-Sea. He completed a fortnight's training & took command of a squadron on the Cadet Wing.
Albert was the first member of the British royal family become a fully qualified pilot. Albert wanted to serve on the Continent while the war was still in progress & welcomed a posting to General Trenchard's staff in France. On 23 October, he flew across the Channel to Autigny. Towards the end of the war, he served on the staff of the RAF's Independent Air Force at its headquarters in Nancy, France. Following the disbanding of the Independent Air Force in November 1918 he remained on the Continent for two months as an RAF staff officer until posted back to Britain. He accompanied the Belgian monarch King Albert I on his triumphal re-entry into Brussels on 22 November. Prince Albert qualified as an RAF pilot on 31 July 1919 & was promoted to squadron leader the following day.
The Prince of Wales – the future Edward VIII (b.1894 - d.1972) joined the Grenadier Guards in 1914 & was eager to fight for his king & country but the government refused his request due to his status as heir to the throne. Edward did witness trench warfare at first hand though & attempted to visit the front line as often as he could, for which he was awarded the Military Cross in 1916. His role in the war led to his great popularity among veterans of the conflict.
"Captain The Prince of Wales in France"; Edward, Prince of Wales (1894-1972) in France c. 1915. Royal Collection Trust/© His Majesty Charles III 2023
Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII (1894-1972) posing with a dog & three other soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards. March 1915.
Princess Mary (b.1897-d.1965)
The King's only daughter, Princess Mary visited hospitals & welfare organisations with her mother Queen Mary, helping with projects to give comfort to British servicemen & help to their families. One project was 'Princess Mary's Christmas Gift Fund', through which £162,000 worth of gifts was sent to all British soldiers & sailors for Christmas 1914. Small boxes were made of silver for officers & brass for all others. They were typically filled with an ounce of tobacco, a packet of cigarettes in a yellow monogrammed wrapper, a cigarette lighter, & a Christmas card & photograph from Princess Mary. Some contained sweets, chocolates, & lemon drops.
Mary also promoted the Girl Guide movement, the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), the Land Girls & in 1918, she took a nursing course & went to work at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Places to Visit; The National Memorial Arboretum
The Arboretum honours the fallen with 50,000 maturing trees surrounding 200 memorials, including the striking Armed Forces Memorial.
Open daily (except 25 December) with free admission, the park currently hosts around 300,000 visitors & over 200 events each year with an additional Act of Remembrance & Silence held daily.
For Servicemen & women or students, veterans or families of those lost, the Arboretum is a tranquil & powerful reminder of those who have given their lives to ensure our freedom.
Armed Forces Memorial - It is a nationally significant focus for Remembrance & was created to remember & recognise those who have given their lives in the service of the country since the end of the Second World War.
Since 1948 the men & women of the Armed Services have taken part in more than 50 operations & conflicts around the world, often working as part of the United Nations, NATO or other coalitions.
Over 16,000 names are recorded on the memorial including those who have been killed whilst on duty, died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists . The names on the hundreds of panels that you will see are recorded in the same way, first by year, then by service – Royal Navy, Army & Royal Air Force, then in date order. Colleagues who died in the same incident are remembered together. There is space on the empty panels for 15,000 more names. Since 2007, the names have been engraved by hand on the memorial on a yearly basis.
The International Bomber Command Centre.
The International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) is a world-class facility to serve as a point for recognition, remembrance & reconciliation for Bomber Command. Providing the most comprehensive record of the Command in the world, the IBCC ensures that generations to come can learn of their vital role in protecting the freedom we enjoy today.
THE IBCC EXPERIENCE
The IBCC provides a world-class facility acknowledging the efforts, sacrifices & commitment of the men & women, from 62 different nations, who came together in Bomber Command during WWII.
The project also covers the stories of those who suffered as a result of the bombing campaigns & those whose survival was guaranteed by the humanitarian operations of Bomber Command.
The average age at death was only 23.
During WWII over a million men & women served or supported Bomber Command. They came from 62 nations across the world & were united in their efforts to protect the freedom we enjoy today. The service included Aircrew, Ground Crew, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Auxiliary Air Transport, Auxiliary Transport Services, NAAFI & many others.
Bomber Command suffered the highest losses of any unit during WWII but have struggled for recognition.
Every member of Bomber Command aircrew was a volunteer.
The Walls of Names at the IBCC carry the names of almost 58,000 men & women who lost their lives whilst serving Bomber Command.
Since inception IBCC has been working with veterans, recording their stories & preserving their documents & photos. Their support during the creation of the project has been astounding.
British War Dead
Second World War (1939-1945). 383,700 military- 67,100 civilians.
Korean War 1050-53). 1109 military.
Falklands War (1982). 255 military - 3 civilians.
Gulf War (1990-91). 47 military.
Afghanistan (2001-2014). 457 military - 101 civilians.
Iraq War (2003-2009). 179 military - 43 civilians.
For more information visit United Kingdom casualties of war
There are more than 100,000 war memorials in the UK. They take many forms, including cenotaphs, plaques, gardens & books.
Commonwealth war graves commission
The Royal British Legion -
'Every year during the Poppy Appeal, our volunteers cover as many areas as possible, collecting on the streets, in shopping centres & at stations.
Click here to learn how you can support the Poppy Appeal this year and find out more about the RBL.
Visit The Imperial War Museums;