Today was Remembrance Sunday and coincided with Armistice Day. 11 a.m. of the 11th day of the 11th month marked the end of hostilities on the Western Front in WW1 and is commemorated throughout the Commonwealth and beyond with commemorative services of Remembrance.
The services to honour the dead of WW1, WW2 and subsequent conflicts take place in cities, towns and villages throughout the world, but the biggest is in London where the centre of commemoration is the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
This year, 2012, over ninety years after the first ceremony, some 500,000 people descended on central London and over 200,000 took part in a march past of veterans to honour the fallen.
Wreaths were placed on the Cenotaph by the Queen, members of the Royal family representing each of the Armed Services and by High Comissioners of every member of the Commonwealth ( except Zimbabwe, although a private wreath was placed by the Rhodesian ex-servicemen’s association.)
Over 233 ex-military and civil defence associations competed for tickets to join the march past, while most are based in Britain they included delegations from commonwealth countries, France, Poland and the American Legion.
The Muslims, the Jews and others seemed to have no objection to a profoundly Anglican and Christian religious service, nor did members of the Commonwealth representing the Old Empire object to the overtly Imperial trappings of Union Jacks, British regiments and non-stop martial and patriotic music.
At the core of the event was the honouring of those people killed as a result of war, whether in the Great Wars of in Afghanistan last week, but it also is a celebration of service to an ideal—one that does not appear ready to fade away.
A major feature of Remembrance Day is the use of poppies, both worn by the public and used as wreaths. Astonishingly, this tradition was started by an American.
In 1918, American YWCA worker Moina Michael, inspired by a poem by Canadian veteran, Col. John McCrae, published a poem of her own called "We Shall Keep the Faith" She vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war. At a November 1918 YWCA Overseas War Secretaries' conference, she appeared with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed 25 more to those attending.
One of her silk poppies was sent to Field Marshal Earl Haig who had founded the British legion—the ex-serviceman’s league and he quickly adopted it and thus it spread to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Once a year, the Empire, with flags and music, still lives.