What is Remembrance?

Blue skies above Heckmondwike War Memorial ( Authors Own Photo)

Always a question that causes huge controversy & debates, especially so as we approach Remembrance Sunday which lets face it is going to seem incredibly strange this year. Most local services of remembrance will be cancelled or scaled back as the country continues to battle with Covid-19

Every year the nation gathers to remember its war dead on Remembrance Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of the month & the closest to the 11th November. The tradition originally began in 1919 a year after the end of the Great War where Mothers & Fathers who’d lost sons ( In some cases a daughter), Wives a Husband, Children a Father & Sweethearts a companion & lover joined veterans remembering their comrades at what was originally a temporary cenotaph in Whitehall, London on 11th November 1919. King George V had issued a proclamation calling on the whole nation to pause and observe a two minute silence in remembrance of those who had been lost in the Great War. Such was the popularity of the service in Whitehall that the cenotaph was made permanent in 1920 and continues to be the centre of our national commemorations to this day

King George V unveils the Centotaph in Whitehall 11th November 1920 (Image © IWM Q 31513)

War memorials were built in almost all cities, towns & villages up and down the country over the following years & these became the focal point of local remembrance services on 11th November

It wasn’t actually until 1939 and the beginning of the Second World War that it was decided that the Sunday closest to the 11th November would become the day of remembrance. The reason being that letting people pay their respects on a Sunday, their day off, would not disrupt important wartime production. Known as a day of dedication it lasted throughout the war & afterwards the government decided that this should continue & eventually it would become known as Remembrance Sunday with the 11th November becoming Armistice Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice which ended hostilities in the Great War

But for many families & veterans it would be all too much & too painful to remember loved ones & comrades at these large gatherings and many would prefer to remember in the comfort of their own homes alone or with family and even for some to try and forget their loss & experiences

I remember as a child watching on TV the service on Remembrance Sunday with my Grandad, who had served in WW2, transfixed with tears in his eyes & standing upright as they played the National Anthem

On 15th May 1921 The British Legion was formed and began selling it’s first Poppies as part of the Earl Haig fund and raised £106,000 which was used to help find employment & housing for veterans. Hardship for families who had in many cases lost the main bread winner of the family saw the Legion continuing it’s efforts to raise vital funds to support them as well as for veterans and this is something that continues to this day after years of supporting veterans & their families from the Second World War right up to more recent conflicts where most of their funds now go

The wearing of a Poppy after a donation to the fund became a well known tradition over the years but one that has been sadly hijacked by some. From the so called ‘Poppy Police’ who seem to seek out and are disgusted at anyone that doesn’t wear one or when they find somewhere wearing one tell them they are wearing it incorrectly to those that spread false stories to condone their own twisted views that somehow if you wear a Poppy you support & glorify war or that you’re racist

As an ex Chairman of my local Royal British Legion branch I can say it doesn’t matter how you wear one or even if indeed you wear one at all. People have that choice and it isn’t upto me or any organisation to say otherwise and the Legion have never said otherwise

Royal British Legion Poppy (Daily Mirror)

There is no doubt that over the years more & more people have donated to the Poppy Appeal and raised huge amounts of much needed funds. Some of this in part is due to more people researching their family trees and discovering long lost ancestors who had served as well as the Centenary of the Great War which was featured in many media outlets as well as in special events across the world. And like many other charities The Legion have had to adapt over the years to stay relevant, long are the days of just giving paper poppies away for a small donation they need to sell a wide variety of items from clothing, homeware, kids items, Pin badges, commemorative items & yes even cuddly toys. Remember the successful Tower Poppies that so many people bought? But in my opinion this isn’t disrespectful or cashing in on Remembrance it’s about learning,dare I say, who your audience are & ensuring that you stay relevant and that your charity can continue to have a future & continue with it’s amazing work

Similarly the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have modernised over the last few years and I believe become more open & engaging with the wider public. They haven’t always got it right of course but name me someone who has everytime. The recent Shine On/Name a star has provoked some debate but again I say it’s an example of trying to find ways of appealing to a modern audience

The amount of people that have been attending local Remembrance Day events over the years as also grown and it’s been heartwarming to see many younger generations involved ensuring that hopefully the act of remembrance will continue long into the future. Again on 11th November the scenes of people pausing in the supermarket, at railway stations & even in the streets to observe the 2 minutes silence is incredibly heartwarming

Poppy wreath at Heckmondwike War Memorial (Authors Own Photo)

We mustn’t forget the many veterans who also attend these events either. Of course all Great War veterans have now passed and sadly most of those who served in WW2 are sadly fading fast so today’s events tend to be filled with National Service, Korean, Falklands,Balkans, Northern Ireland & Iraq & Afghanistan veterans remembering their comrades. I’ve never served myself in any of the forces but have friends who have and I know that many of them have their own particular days or dates that they pause to remember lost comrades or a battle or incident that took place. Indeed the wonderful Harry Patch, the last surviving Tommy to serve on the Western Front, always said that his day to remember was the 22nd September when he lost his comrades in his Lewis gun team & was wounded himself

Harry Patch (Image Memoria.com)

I think what’s important for me is to recognise that we all can remember in our own way, for most of us with an interest in the Great War remembering is something I’d say we do everyday and also in our research and visits to the old battlefields. But for others it’s just one time a year. We all remember differently as well & we shouldn’t just focus on those who lost their lives but also on all those who served & came home many of them scared physically & mentally by their experiences. We should also remember the happy times we spent over the years with family members, friends or comrades

These are as ever just my opinions & observations and some of you will agree & others will disagree with me but I think in answer to the question that gives this blog it’s name it’s that we all need to approach remembrance with an open mind and respect each others thoughts,views & ways of remembering. The sacrifices over the years of those whom we are are all remembering was to ensure that we all have the choice to be freethinkers



Imperial War Museum Collection

The Last fighting Tommy by Richard van Embden & Harry Patch

4 thoughts on “What is Remembrance?”

  1. Really good and some superb points made there. Remembrance is such a personal thing and no-one has the right to tell how to do it or make us feel we have to. We each remember in our own way. And that’s just as it should be.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully written.
    I came across the words of George V recently and they seem Beverly appropriate in these times.

    “…(where possible) 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.”

    George V 1919

    Liked by 1 person

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