Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed mainly in the Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of World War I to remember members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty. It was observed on the 12th November 2017 in Menteng Pulo Cemetery where many soldiers of many nations – not just commonwealth – are buried. This is the story of how it all started.
The Remembrance Day Poppy
In 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian volunteer medical officer working at a Regimental Aid Post in the second battle of Ypres, was inspired by poppies growing on the battlefield to write the poem – In Flanders’ Field.
His poem was published by ‘Punch’ magazine in London and reprinted across the world. On reading it in the United States, Moina Michael, a worker with the American YMCA, was so moved that she resolved to wear a poppy for ever more. The poppy became a symbol for those Americans who wanted to demonstrate their feelings about the sacrifice made by soldiers on the western front.
In 1921 Earl Haig, Commander-in-Chief for most of the war, formed the British Legion, bringing together four separate ex-Service organisations.
Madame Guérin, a French YMCA worker and friend of Moina Michael, visited the newly formed British Legion with samples of artificial poppies she had manufactured. The idea of a “Poppy Day” to mark the anniversary of the Armistice British Legion raised £106,000 selling poppies, the proceeds to be used to provide employment and assistance for ex-Servicemen.
This following year Major Howson MC founded the Disabled Society and approached the Legion with the idea of establishing a small factory to produce artificial poppies. In 1922 five disabled ex-Servicemen started producing poppies from a workshop in the Old Kent Road. Today the Poppy Factory turns out 38 million poppies each year from a factory in Richmond, Surrey together with nearly a million remembrance crosses and 120,000 wreaths.
Nationally there are more than 370,000 active members in the Royal British Legion today and a further 11,000 overseas. It is estimated that some 9,5 million ex-Service personnel and their dependants are eligible for Care and Welfare support. Last year the Royal British Legion spent £65M on direct support, and a further £47M in indirect welfare support.
Colonel McCrae died of wounds in a Normandy hospital in May 1918.
In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place: and in the sky
That larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scare heard amid the guns below
Opening verse of ‘In Flanders’ Fields’
Exhortation for the fallen – Part One (Flanders)
They shall grow not old
As we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them
Nor the year condemn
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them
The dawn service was attended by many dignitaries from embassies and representatives of societies and schools who laid wreaths to commemorate the day. It was a moving and respectful ceremony, in a most beautiful cemetery which is maintained to the highest standards by the Commonwealth Graves Commission and is a peaceful to visit anytime.