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Remembrance Day: How the end of the First World War will be honoured 100 years on

Memorial services, parades and seas of red poppies pay tribute to the soldiers who laid down their lives a century ago

Joe Sommerlad
Sunday 11 November 2018 08:59 GMT
What was the Armistice?

This Sunday marks 100 years since the Armistice was signed in November 1918, bringing an end to the First World War.

The agreement between the Allies and a vanquished Germany required the latter to leave all occupied territories in Western Europe within two weeks and surrender 5,000 guns, 25,000 machine guns and 1,700 planes.

Big Ben sounded in Parliament Square to ring in the news as thousands gathered in Westminster and outside Buckingham Palace roaring in celebration, sparking three days of jubilation across Britain, with members of the public climbing the lions in Trafalgar Square and tearing down advertising hoardings appealing for investment in war bonds to burn on bonfires.

In the House of Commons, the prime minister, Lloyd George, concluded his address with the declaration: “I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came an end to all wars.”

The national mood was not exclusively joyous, however. Wounded veterans, recovering in military hospitals, typically met the news in reflective silence, ambivalent about the pyrrhic nature of a victory that had seen so many young lives brutally extinguished.

In Shrewsbury, Susan Owen - mother of the great poet of the conflict, Lieutenant Wilfred Owen – received a telegram informing her of his death at Sambre-Oise in France at the precise moment local church bells rang out in euphoria, an irony as bitter as they come.

Over the next two years, 5,000 war memorials were erected in towns and villages nationwide, solemnly recording the sacrifices of local soldiers rather than revelling in glory, monuments that stand today as reminders of the past and warnings to future generations not to repeat the mistakes of history.

How is the centenary being marked this year?

Appropriately, Armistice Day coincides with Remembrance Sunday for its centenary, the latter always held on the second Sunday in November, regardless of the date.

Events will be held across Britain but the centrepiece will be the National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, central London, paying respect to the men and women of Britain and the Commonwealth who served in the First and Second World Wars and in subsequent conflicts since.

The Royal Family, Britain’s political leaders and representatives of the Armed Forces will all be in attendance.

Royal British Legion detachments will march from Wellington Barracks near St James’s Park at 10am to reach the Cenotaph for 11am, where a two-minutes’ silence will be observed, marked by the firing of guns from the King’s Troop on Horse Guards Parade.

After the service, the laying of poppy wreaths and the sounding of “The Last Post” by a Royal Marines bugler, The Nation’s Thank You procession will commence at 12.30pm, in which 10,000 members of the public will march past the monument in tribute.

Outside of the capital, bell-ringing and commemorative events are being staged across the country. You can find on what’s taking place in your area on the Armistice 100 website.

In Ypres, Belgium - theatre of many of the war’s bloodiest skirmishes - a whole host of memorial services and parades will be held to remember the dead. You can see the full schedule of events on the town’s Great War website.

Why do people wear poppies for Armistice Day?

The Royal British Legion has run its Poppy Appeal since 1921, importing American academic Moina Michael’s idea of sporting handmade silk poppies, to raise money for living servicemen and women.

Taking inspiration from the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, the bright red wildflower was chosen as a symbol of hope because it once grew in the fields torn apart by shellfire and tank tracks where many fallen soldiers met their end.

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Wilfred Owen also addressed the contrast between the beauty of the countryside and the gore of battle in his his 1918 poem “Spring Offensive”.

This year, multiple poppies have been used to build impressive installations at churches and statues around the country. The sea of red currently filling the moat of the Tower of London is just one example.

The Imperial War Museum’s “Weeping Window” display, the war horse in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral and the leaf-shaped messages hanging in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, are particularly resonant.

Why is the significance of 11-11-11?

Armistice Day was declared on 11 November 1918 and Big Ben sounded on the hour at 11am – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

This weekend’s two-minute silence will commence at precisely that time, marking exactly 100 hundred years to the second the First World War came to an end.

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