Armistice Day 2021: Poppies, commemorations and why the act of remembrance matters

November 11, 2021, Armistice Day, marks 103 years since the end of the First World War. Every year the nation comes together to remember the bravery of the men and women who played a role. 

After the Second World War, many countries changed the name of the day from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day – but it is not to be confused with Remembrance Sunday which always falls on the second Sunday in November.

The first Remembrance Day in Britain and the Commonwealth was held in 1919 and is now traditionally marked by poppies, a two-minute silence and a commemorative festival at the Royal Albert Hall attended by The Queen.

It is followed just days later by Remembrance Sunday, which will this year take place on November 14. 

Here is everything you need to know about the dates and the ways you can remember the fallen. 

The bright red poppy is regarded as a resilient flower, which managed to flourish despite fields being destroyed by war

Credit: Television Stills

Origins of Armistice Day

Armistice Day commemorates the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany at 11am on 11 November 1918 – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Although hostilities continued in some areas, the armistice essentially brought an end to four years of fighting in the First World War. 

The armistice was signed in a railway carriage belonging to Ferdinand Foch, a French military commander, in the remote Forest of Compiègne, north of Paris, at 5am on 11 November 1918 and came into force six hours later. (In 1940, Hitler forced the French to sign an armistice on German terms in the same railway carriage.)

British troops negotiate a trench as they go forward in support of an attack on the village of Morval during the Battle of the Somme

Credit: PA

The Treaty of Versailles, signed six months later in June 1919, acted as the lasting peace treaty between the nations. 

The armistice forced the Germans to evacuate invaded countries and territories within two weeks. They also had to surrender a significant amount of war material, including five thousand guns, 25,000 machine guns, 1,700 planes.

Germany, exhausted by war and with a nation of hungry citizens, reluctantly accepted the terms. 

The first Armistice Day in Britain and the Commonwealth was held in 1919. But it wasn’t until Australian journalist Edward George Honey proposed the idea of a two-minute silence in a letter published in the London Evening News in May 1989 that it became widespread act of remembrance.

King George V later issued a proclamation calling for a two minute silence, it said: "All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead."

Origins of Remembrance Sunday

Armistice Day was marked annually until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. It was decided that the commemorative celebrations would not be held on November 11 during the conflict and instead the nearest Sunday was marked as the ‘day of dedication’.

When World War Two ended in 1945, the British government officially replaced Armistice Day with the new Sunday observance in order to honour those who had been part of the efforts during both World Wars. It became the main day for commemoration and was titled Remembrance Sunday. It was not until 1956 that the date was fixed as the second Sunday of November.

Commemorative events in 2021

This year, Armistice Day, also known as Remembrance Day, falls on a Thursday, 11 November, and will be marked around the world. After the Second World War, many countries changed the name of the day from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day, while the US chose to call it Veterans Day and made the day a federal holiday.

Festival of Remembrance 

This will be held at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 13 November and attended by the Queen and her family. Members of the public can purchase tickets here.

National Service of Remembrance 

This will be held at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, which will this year be on 14 November. Traditionally, Her Majesty pays tribute to fallen heroes alongside Members of the Cabinet, Opposition Party leaders, former Prime Ministers, the Mayor of London and other ministers, by laying a wreath.

Remembrance Sunday March Past 

The annual event at the Cenotaph also sees up to 10,000 people, including thousands of veterans, take part with coverage of the day’s events being broadcast by the BBC.

There will also be a two-minute silence observed across the country at 11am on both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.

Chelsea Pensioners march past the Cenotaph during the Annual Service of Remembrance

Credit: Owen Cooban/MOD

Why do we wear poppies?

In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, Canadian doctor Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields to write the now famous poem In Flanders Fields. 

His poem moved American teacher Moina Michael who began making and selling silk poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-service community.

Before long, poppies made their way to the UK and became the symbol of the Royal British Legion when it was formed in 1921. 

The first ever ‘Poppy Appeal’ in the UK that year raised over £106,000 for war veterans. The following year, a poppy factory was set up by Major George Howson MC, giving jobs to disabled former servicemen. 

The bright red poppy is regarded as a resilient flower which managed to flourish despite fields being destroyed by war. 

Some people say you should wear the poppy on your left side, so it is worn over the heart. The left is also where military medals are worn. Others say only the Queen and Royal Family are allowed to wear a poppy on the right, which is an urban myth.

A Royal British Legion spokesman said there is no right or wrong side, "other than to wear it with pride".

At a glance | Poppy controversies

In Flanders Fields, a poem written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in 1915, is said to have inspired the enduring symbol of the war.

It describes the poppies that grew over the graves of the fallen soldiers; he is said to have written it after attending the funeral of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres.

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.

Buying a poppy in 2021

Poppies are available from late October when the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal launches. Street collectors sell them all over Britain up until November 11.

The UK public buy around 40 million poppies each year

Credit: Geoff Pugh

Collectors aim to be at all major supermarket chains, train stations and high street stores. You can also buy poppies online from the Royal British Legion’s website. The suggested donation is £1 per poppy.

The net income from the appeal goes to the Royal British Legion Benevolent Fund and armed forces’ dependents, veterans and those bereaved. 

The poppies are made at the Poppy Factory in Richmond, Surrey, and in 2019, more than 40 million poppies were distributed by 40,000 volunteers.

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