Remembrance Sunday and the British Legion Poppy
By Public Affairs, 48th Fighter Wing
/ Published November 07, 2011
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- At the eleventh hour on Nov. 11, we will mark 93 years since the end of The Great War. In the U.S., it is called Veterans Day, in the U.K., it is known as Remembrance Day, Armistice Day or Poppy Day.
Beginning in 1939, at the start of World War II, the two-minute silence was moved to the Sunday nearest to Nov. 11 so as not to interfere with wartime production. Since the 1990s, a growing number of people have observed a two-minute silence on Nov. 11, resulting in both that day and Remembrance Sunday being commemorated formally in the U.K.
The wearing of poppies is a proud tradition in the U.K. On British television you will notice that, from the last week of October until Nov.11, all presenters and politicians wear the poppy as a mark of respect for those who have fought on behalf of the nation.
The first official Legion Poppy Day was held in Britain on Nov. 11, 1921. It was inspired by the poem 'In Flanders' Fields' written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces, who tended the wounded and dying on the battlefields of Flanders. Some of the bloodiest fighting of World War I took place in the Flanders and Picardy regions of Belgium and northern France. The poppy was the only thing which grew in the aftermath of the complete devastation. The poem was written upon a scrap of paper in the trenches during a lull in the bombings May 3, 1915, after McCrae witnessed the death of his friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, the day before.
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.
Civilians wanted to remember the people who gave their lives for peace and freedom. An American war secretary, Moina Michael, touched by McCrae's poem, began selling artificial poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-service community. The idea spread to Great Britain and caught the interest of the Royal British Legion. Since then, the Poppy Appeal has been a key annual event in the nation's calendar. The Royal British Legion, who runs the Poppy Appeal, is a charitable organization which provides financial, social and emotional support to millions who have served and are currently serving in the Armed Forces and their dependants.
Today the artificial poppies are made at the Poppy Factory in Surrey, England, and Remembrance Sunday is the culmination of a year's effort to make 38 million Remembrance poppies, 5 million Remembrance petals, 900,000 crosses and 100,000 wreaths. A team of 50 people, most of them disabled and ex-servicemen and women work year round at the factory. They also make wreaths laid by Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.
Annually, on the Saturday preceding Remembrance Sunday, London's Royal Albert Hall hosts the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance. The Festival of Remembrance is a solemn, thought-provoking event. A particularly poignant moment is the observance of the two-minute silence and the releasing of a million red poppies over the audience.
On Remembrance Sunday, Nov.13, the RAF commander and many members of the Liberty Wing will attend acts of remembrance and lay wreaths throughout the local community as we all join together to remember and be thankful for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.