After the devastating slaughter of men on both sides in the First World War, the poppy was the first thing to grow on the battlefields of France & Belgium and it was the sight of this beauty in a place of utter desolation that so moved Dr John McCrae, a doctor serving there with the Canadian Armed Forces to write this:
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.
In 1918 on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the First World War ended.
Civilians wanted to remember the people who had given their lives for peace and freedom. An American War Secretary, Moina Michael, inspired by John McCrae’s poem, sold poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-Service community. It was suggested to the Legion that members of the Disabled Society could make poppies and the Poppy Factory was subsequently founded in Richmond. The original poppy was designed so that workers with a disability could easily assemble it and this principle remains today.
This year, the acknowledgement of the War’s truce took place on Friday 11th November at 11.00am, today Saturday, sees the Royal British Legion’s annual Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall attended by HM The Queen, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and other Members of the Royal Family. The Festival pays tribute to all victims of war and conflict & features performances by Sir Cliff Richard, Katherine Jenkins, and a choir composed of military wives with husbands on active service in Afghanistan.
It will be broadcast on BBC1 TV & includes the traditional Two Minute Silence as poppy petals fall from the roof of the Royal Albert Hall, each representing a life lost in war, the sheer scale of the number of petals falling is one of the most sombre & evocative sights of all the Remembrance events.
Sunday sees the annual service held at the Cenotaph in Whitehall to commemorate Remembrance Day in honour of the servicemen and women who died for their country.
Official wreaths are laid on the steps of The Cenotaph, the first by HM The Queen – this one of the few times that the Queen ever bows – followed by the Royal family, the Prime Minister & many other dignitaries from around the world. The ceremony ends with a march past of war veterans; a poignant gesture of respect for their fallen comrades. Whatever one’s views on war and who wins, it is impossible not to feel moved by this solemnity of this event.
The Legion Today. Anyone who has been in the British Armed Forces for seven days or more (and their dependants) is eligible to belong and receive help. More than 9 million people are eligible to the Legion’s help.
People as young as 17.5 years can be sent on active service, so veterans are often much younger than the public realise. Nearly a quarter of those helped now younger than 44.