Today, Thursday 11 November, is Remembrance, or Armistice, Day, marking the end of World War I. The armistice agreement was signed on Monday 11 November, 1918 at 11.00am: the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The following year, King George V instigated the first two minute silence, issuing the following proclamation: “All locomotion should cease so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”
The tradition continues, and we remember not only that conflict, but also all other conflicts and acts of terrorism where members of the Armed Forces and civilians have been lost. More than that, we also remember that war is a devastating way to resolve world problems, and should truly be a last resort, but that democracy and human rights must be safeguarded. Other Commonwealth countries – those places with historical and political ties to Britain such as India, Australia and Canada – also observe Remembrance Day in very similar ways to us. Non-Commonwealth countries – for example, the United States, France and Poland – mark the day in their own way. Here at the RGS, we particularly remember those Old Boys who gave their lives in the Great Wars and other conflicts, so that we could live freely today.
The red poppy worn at this time of year is a symbol of our remembrance, and also of hope for a peaceful future. Here in the United Kingdom, 2021 marks the 100th year of the Poppy Appeal, which raises funds to support the Armed Forces community. The poppy was chosen because it seemed almost indestructible in the fields of Western Europe, where much of the fighting in World War I took place. The original inspiration came from a poem written by a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, called In Flanders Fields. The poem urges those who live to remember those who sacrificed their lives, and why; this is what we are doing today.
I would like to finish with the last verse of the poem:
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.