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A Coruña
Santa Cruz

Thursday, 13 de November de 2014

Remembrance Day is observed in the UK and other commonwealth countries on the 11th of November. On this day, at 11am, people stop whatever they are doing to commemorate those who have lost their lives in war with two minutes of silence. 

Coinciding with Veterans Day in the USA and Armistice Day in France, Remembrance Day is not a public holiday but it is one of the most important days on the calendar.  

When did it start?

The tradition of Remembrance Day dates back to 1919 when the first two minutes silence was held exactly one year after the First World War ended. Here is how a journalist writing for the Manchester Guardian reported the first ever two minutes silence: 

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.

The two minutes of silence takes place at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time at which hostilities ceased between all sides in The Great War of 1914-1918. 

Although Remembrance Day officially marks the ceasefire of the First World War, it is an opportunity for people to remember those who have fallen victim to war throughout the ages.

The Remembrance Poppy

The iconic emblem of Remembrance Day in the UK is the poppy. Every year, people can buy poppies for £1 to wear on their chests as a sign of commemoration. The money collected by the Poppy Appeal goes to the Royal British Legion, a charity which continues to give support to serving UK armed forces personnel, veterans and their families. 

But why is the poppy a symbol of remembrance? It all originated from a poem titled "In Flanders Fields" which was written by a Canadian military doctor called John McCrae in 1915. This poignant poem alludes to the fact that many of the battlefields of the First World War were originally filled with bright red poppies. Here is an extract of the poem: 

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.
                                   John McCrae (1915)

To many, the red of the poppy provides a fitting parallel to the blood spilled on the battlefields, but they also symbolise the powerful forces of nature and regrowth which transcend the harsh realities of war. In essence, the poppy is a symbol of loss but also of hope. 

This year, to mark the centennial anniversary of the beginning of WWI (World War One), a special artwork was commissioned to transform a very familiar London landmark. The moat around the Tower of London has become a field of ceramic poppies, 888,246, to be precise - the official number of soldiers which Britain lost during WWI. 

On Remembrance Sunday (the Sunday closest to the 11th of November), formal ceremonies take place across the UK at local war memorials. In London, a televised ceremony takes place every year at the Cenotaph on Whitehall. During this ceremony, the Queen, Prime Minister, and other important people from British royalty and politics leave a wreath of poppies by the famous war memorial.

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