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British Legion Armistice Day

November 2013


Remembrance Day is well worth remembering.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Most of our generation will be familiar with those words, repeated on every Remembrance Day during our lifetimes.

It was the time that the hostilities of World War 1 finally ceased in 1918 and the armistice was signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente. It wasn’t quite the end and the final Treaty of Versailles was not signed until 28th June 1919.

Here in the UK the eleventh day of the eleventh month, or November 11th, has always been a very special day.  It was actually King George V who dedicated this day as a special date to pay our respects to members of the armed forces who were killed during World War 1. There were a lot to remember - during the conflict there were over 16 million deaths; it was one of the deadliest conflicts between land armies in human history.

Incidentally, the word “armistice” refers to a situation in a war when the opposing groups agree to stop fighting. It doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a battle but can just refer to a cessation in hostilities. In the case of Remembrance Day, when it is referred to as Armistice Day it does mean the ending of the fighting.

Poppies are a traditional aspect of Remembrance Day based on the landscapes in the devastated regions of northern France and Belgium. Where many soldiers were buried across the desolate landscape, many poppies came up thanks to the disturbed soil. A doctor in the Canadian Armed Forces, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, noticed how they brought colour and hope and he wrote what is now a famous poem - In Flanders Fields.

The key lines are:

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.



Sadly McCrae died in a French military hospital before his poem became famous; but his words were later published in the famous UK magazine Punch.

An American teacher Moina Michael saw the poem and decided to sell poppies to raise money to help ex army people back from the war and the tradition of poppies was started.

This idea of selling poppies to help ex service men has continued and most of us will see members of the British Legion selling poppies during the first week or so of November.

The Royal British Legion was formed in 1921 with similar aims to those of Moina Michael, to help ex servicemen and their families after the war. Many families had been left without the traditional breadwinner. Also, because of the war, the British economy was collapsing and in the year the British Legion was formed, there were over two million unemployed including many men who had returned from the war and were unable to get jobs.

Since then the British Legion has gone from strength to strength, giving aid and support to returned service people who have been involved in a range of conflicts across the world. They now have a membership of 370,000 and provide practical care, advice and support to individuals and families across the UK.

Today anyone can join the British Royal Legion and they are always keen to recruit volunteers to help provide emotional support and practical assistance in local communities, to visit people who are in hospital or housebound, and of course to work as collectors (more information on

Whatever the rights and wrongs of war, during that dreadful conflict of 1914 to 1918 millions lost their lives through no other reason than a willingness to serve their country and their community.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month we observe two minutes of silence to honour the people that died for us.



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