Remembrance Day – the powerful moment and poppies

The powerful moment that is the Two Minute Silence began on the first anniversary of Armistice Day, 11 November 1919.

The War Cabinet discussed it on 5 November and approved a ‘Service of Silence’ on Armistice Day. The only amendment they made was to the duration, to one minute, subject to approval from King George V. Lord Milner drafted a ‘personal request’ for the King and took it to Buckingham Palace. However, The King altered the duration of the silence back to two minutes and the announcement was carried by all national newspapers on 7 November 1919.

Engraver and coin designer, Emma Noble, stated

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – it’s such a powerful moment. A moment the world remembers the bravery and the sacrifice. I wanted the coin to pinpoint that moment.

Her design for The Royal Mint’s Remembrance Day 2012 coin focuses on the symbol of remembrance, capturing the vivid red of the poppy, and also includes the emotive words above that marked the hour of the end of the First World War.

The Royal Mint's remembrance Day coin and a poppy
Royal Mint’s Remembrance Day £5 coin at London’s Westminster Abbey.

Three people were instrumental in making the poppy the everlasting symbol of this poignant annual commemoration:

John McCrae

A volunteer doctor and surgeon in the Canadian Armed Forces. In 1915 he was moved to write ‘In Flanders Fields’ (also known as ‘We Shall Not Sleep’) after witnessing the death of a close friend and poppies growing on battlefields and the graves of the fallen. Poppies are one of the few flowers that flourish in newly cultivated fields since its seeds lay dormant for years until the soil is turned. During World War I, red corn poppies bloomed in fields that had been disturbed by battle, and the flower has become an emotive symbol of that war.

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.

McCrae died of pneumonia in a military hospital on the French coast in January 1918.

Moina Belle Michael

‘The Poppy Lady’ was an American writer, serving with the American YMCA. In New York for a conference two days before the Armistice, she read a copy of John McRae’s poem and was utterly captured by the last verse. She vowed to always wear a poppy on the anniversary of the Armistice; her way of symbolising remembrance of the war dead and as a way of “keeping the faith with all who died”. Moina wrote a response to McCrae’s poem and titled it ‘”We Shall Keep the Faith”.

The first verse is:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

Madame Anna Guérin

“The French Poppy Lady” was a representative of the French YMCA who was present at the same conference in New York that Moina Michael attended.

On her return to France she set about organising the making and selling of artificial poppies to raise money to help widows and orphans as well as veterans and their families.
Shortly after The Royal British Legion was formed in 1921 the poppy was adopted as its symbol, partly due to the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’.

The first official poppy day in Britain was 11 November 1921.  Today, the poppy is still a symbol of remembrance and hope of life continuing after the horrors of war. Every November poppies bloom as people wear them and lay wreaths of them at monuments all over the world.  Buying a poppy helps support The Royal British Legion’s work, acknowledges the on-going bravery of the Armed Forces and remembers the fallen.

Apart from ‘In Flanders Fields’ several other poems refer to this remembrance, one of which is ‘For the Fallen’ by Laurence Binyo.

An extract from it, known as ‘The Exhortation’ is read out during services of Remembrance:

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.

The iconic poppy is captured forever on the new Remembrance Day coin from the Royal Mint

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