Saturday 11 November 2023

Traditional pursuits in November – part 3

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In Flanders Fields

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.

On Armistice Day, now usually called Remembrance Day, a two-minute silence is observed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to commemorate the ending of the First World War. The Armistice, which is Latin for ‘to stand or still arms’, was signed at 05:45 on  11th November, 1918, between the Allies and Germany as a preface to peace negotiations. The principals met in a railway carriage serving as the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander, Field Marshal Foch, in a secret location in the Forest of Compiègne, Picardy. The guns fell silent at 11:00.

The silence on Armistice Day was suggested to King George V who wrote a press statement on 7th November, 1919. It was published in The Times.

To all my people,

     Tuesday next, 11 November, is the first anniversary of the armistice, which stayed the world-wide carnage of the four preceding years, and marked the victory of right and freedom.

     I believe that my people in every part of the Empire fervently wish to perpetuate the memory of that great deliverance and of those who laid down their lives to achieve it.

     To afford an opportunity for the universal expression of this feeling it is my desire and hope that at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities.

     During that time, except in the rare cases where this may be impracticable, all work, all sound, and all locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.

     No elaborate organisation appears to be necessary.

     At a given signal, which could easily be arranged to suit the circumstances of each locality, I believe that we shall all gladly interrupt our business and pleasure, whatever it may be, and unite in this simple service of silence and remembrance.


                                The service at the Cenotaph 

Thereafter, the silence has been observed annually throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. It is a poignant moment when the world stills, wherever practicable, in schools, supermarkets, radio, television, businesses large and small. I read once, but cannot find it now, that the first minute of the silence was to commemorate those who had died, and the second was to remember those who were left behind to carry on, the wounded, the widows, the families.

Remembrance Sunday is always held on the second Sunday in November in many and varied locations. Some gatherings are large, others small, but they follow the same format and all are impressive. In Whitehall in London, the Cenotaph, a war memorial designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is the place where the National Service of Remembrance is held. The service honours those men and women of Britain and the Commonwealth, both civilian and military, who were involved in so many capacities in two World Wars and other conflicts.

The service is attended by members of the Royal family, political leaders and Commonwealth representatives, military personnel and war veterans. Following the laying of wreaths, there is a march past of around 10,000 veterans from many organisations from fire fighters to ambulance drivers, from merchant seamen to civil servants. They also lay wreaths.

The contrast between the youngest and oldest is striking – a reminder, if ever one were needed, of the loss that war brings.



  1. We do the two minute silence here in Australia, but parades are saved for Anzac Day, which also includes the dawn service with the prayers and the bugle blowing Last Post.

    1. Anzac Day is commemorated in London every year.

  2. Replies
    1. We must never forget and we must ensure that children remember, too. x x x

  3. 11th November is Remembrance Day here as well. I am not sure what schools do nowadays, but when I was in primary school, we always sent a group to the Shrine to pay respects (to our grandfathers' generation). It was sad but meaningful.

    I hope that the beautiful red poppy is still a symbol of remembrance of those who died or suffered in war.

    1. I asked my 10-year-old grandson about it and he knew why and remembered the first time he had experienced the two-minute silence at school when he was 5. The red poppy is still a potent symbol. White poppies were worn by some in my daughter's Quaker school. Purple poppies are to remember the many animals that died in war.

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  5. I feel bad. We forgot about the two minute silence until noon. We were at a bakery having brunch and if we remembered, we would have sat still and silent. That we can have bakery brunch some one hundred years ago because of the sacrifice of so many is good.

    1. Don't feel bad - feel glad that you are free and that life can be lived as we wish.

  6. Thank you for this wonderful post. We will have a Veterans Parade locally. This pretty much holds true of all our small towns and villages. The poppies I so remember from childhood.

    1. I think it's so encouraging that people observe these important dates. I know the Americans have Veterans' Day as well:-)

  7. Lovely - Thank you x
    Alison in Wales x

  8. Thank you for this. The poem, no matter how many times read, never fails to deeply touch me. We should do our best to remember their sacrifice.

  9. We don't observe Armistice Day in NZ. Our commemoration is on 25 April each year (a significant daye in the Gallipoli campaign.)

    1. Anzac Day is observed in UK, too, but not as widely.

      'Anzac Day has been observed in London since King George V attended the first service at Westminster Abbey in 1916 to mark the anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli.'

  10. It's good to see that Armistice Day is still being observed in a lot of countries. I do fear, however, that - in Belgium at least- young people not longer know the meaning or the significance. And not just the very young, either. Both Jos and I were stopped a couple of times this week by people wanting to know why we were wearing poppies ... xxx

  11. That is extraordinary. It's such a shame that the 'Gallant Little Belgium' of 1914 should not be commemorated and honoured by all its citizens.

  12. A poignant and very special post. Thank you, Janice.


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