November 11: Remembering Remembrance Day & the Red Poppies

Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations 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. The day, specifically designated by King George V on 7 November 1919, or alternative dates, are also recognized as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries.

Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November to recall the end of hostilities of World War I 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 and the Entente 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.

The memorial evolved out of Armistice Day, which continues to be marked on the same date. The initial Armistice Day was observed at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a “Banquet in Honor of the President of the French Republic” during the evening hours of 10 November 1919. The first official Armistice Day was subsequently held on the grounds of Buckingham Palace the following morning.

The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem In Flanders Fields. These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red color became a symbol for the blood spilled in the war.

The red poppy many of us pin to our coats in November was originally created to help us remember those who fought. What it means, however, some of us still fight over. From minor squabbles about how and when to wear it, to more serious discussions about how it affects our thinking about war, the red remembrance poppy is much more than a flower.

What it means: We wear a red poppy over any other flower because it grows wild in many fields in northern France and Belgium. This is where some of the deadliest battles of World War One took place and many men died. Poppies are tough flowers, and can grow anywhere, but are also delicate. It is thought they are a fitting emblem to remember those who died.

The Royal British Legion is one of the main charities associated with Remembrance Sunday. It explains that the red poppy is an emblem of remembrance and hope. It stresses it is not ‘blood’ red or a sign of support for war and death. Neither should it be seen as a symbol of religion or politics, the charity states on its website.

When to wear it: Poppy etiquette prompts complaints every year. Some say you should wear your poppy from 31 October. Others say you should wear it in the 11 days leading up to Remembrance Day.

How to wear it: Many say on the left, symbolizing that you keep those who died close to your heart. It’s also where military medals are worn. Others say men should wear it on the left and women on the right, like you would a badge or brooch. There is no right or wrong way to wear a poppy. It is a matter of personal choice whether an individual chooses to wear a poppy and also how they choose to wear it. The best way to wear a poppy is to wear it with pride.

Controversy: Some people feel that the red poppy has become political, and that politicians use the compassion of those wearing a poppy to justify war. News presenter Jon Snow famously refused to wear a poppy on air, saying viewer demands for him to wear a poppy were a kind of ‘poppy fascism’. He said he would wear a poppy “not on the telly… but on Remembrance Sunday in concert with others”.

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