The Centenary of the Armistice

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This year’s Remembrance Day on 11 November marks the centenary of the 1918 Armistice of Compiègne – the treaty that that lead to a cessation of all fighting in the First World War, from the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. While the war itself did not officially end until the 1919 Treaty of Versailles came into effect, the anniversary of the Armistice has become the symbolic moment for remembrance across much of the world.

History of remembrance

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 caused widespread victory parades in the UK, although many people, including a number of ex-servicemen, refused to participate. As a consequence, the feeling that an act of remembrance should be commemorative rather than triumphant was in place from the beginning, and the commemorations on 11 November 1919 reflected this. From this first Remembrance Day, traditions that are still in place now were formed, including the ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and the two-minute silence. The silence itself was announced by a ringing of bells across the UK and everything and everyone stopped.

Other traditions were also quickly established, such as local commemorations at war memorials, and the wearing of poppies as an act of remembrance for the fallen. Other than a scaling down of ceremonies during the Second World War, these traditions have continued until the present. Much of what is planned to commemorate the 100th year since the Armistice, closely reflects what was done at the first remembrance.

Poppies as a remembrance symbol

Like many of the other Remembrance Day traditions, poppies were first incorporated into Armistice day in the early 1920s. The first poppies came from America, when academic Moina Michael decided to make and sell red silk poppies after reading the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Canadian doctor Lt Col John McCrae. Her poppies were then brought to England by a French woman, Anna Guérin.

The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever ‘Poppy Appeal’ raised over £106,000 – a considerable amount of money at the time. This money was used to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing. The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory in Richmond, Surrey, to employ disabled ex-Servicemen. Today, the factory continues to produce millions of poppies each year.

Demand for poppies in England was so high in the early 1920s that very few from the first batches made it to Scotland. To meet demand Lady Haig established the ‘Lady Haig Poppy Factory’ in Edinburgh in 1926 to produce poppies exclusively for Scotland. Over five million Scottish poppies are still made by hand by disabled ex-Servicemen at Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory each year.

Poppies made in Scotland are different from those in the rest of the UK, having four petals instead of two, and having no leaf. This is because the poppy made in Scotland follows Lady Haig’s original 1926 design. Her choice of four petals was to make the poppy look more botanically correct, and the leaf was left off to save money. Today Poppyscotland estimates that £15,000 a year is saved by not including a leaf, allowing them to invest this money into causes supporting armed forces personnel.

This year, for the centenary, red poppies will include the dates 1918-2018 on each poppy sold. The dates appear on the leaf in England, and on the poppy itself in Scotland.

White poppies have been made by the Peace Pledge Union since 1933 and have become more commonly worn in recent years, sometimes alongside a red poppy. The white poppies represent: “remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace and a challenge to attempts to glamorise or celebrate war.” While the proceeds of both forms of the red poppy go to charities supporting ex-military personnel in the UK, sales of the white poppy are used to support Peace Pledge Union projects.

In the past couple of years there have been poppies to commemorate animals affected by conflict, which are purple.

Centenary commemorations in Scotland

While the usual remembrance events are taking place in Scotland this year, a number of additional events, aimed at reflecting the centenary of the Armistice, are also planned.

From 5pm on 11 November, the names of all those who died serving on behalf of Scotland in the First World War will be projected onto the Scottish Parliament building. The seven-hour illumination called THEIR NAME LIVETH, will honour the 134,712 men and women listed in the Scottish National War Memorial Roll of Honour.  Along with Scottish servicemen, the names of those projected will include nurses, munitions factory workers, Merchant Navy personnel, and overseas servicemen who fought on behalf of Scotland.

Filmmaker Danny Boyle has organised a series of community events on beaches where people will gather and etch the faces of those who perished during the First World War into the sand. Six beaches in Scotland are taking part.

Also on 11 November, the BBC will be showing the premier of Peter Jackson’s film ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, while in Edinburgh the final tour date of ‘Far, Far From Ypres’ will be performed at the Usher Hall.

There have been exhibitions marking the centenary held around Scotland, including ‘Lanarkshire’s War’ at the Summerlee Museum of Industrial Life and a Silhouette Installation at the Black Watch Castle and Museum in Perth. More events are listed on the Visit Scotland, WW100 Scotland, and the Armistice 100 websites.

Future of remembrance

The last surviving UK veteran of the First World War, Florence Green, who had been a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force, died aged 110 in 2012. The preceding year the last combat veteran, Claude Choules who had served in the British Royal Navy, also died aged 110.

The act of remembrance however has come to symbolise more than the end of fighting during the First World War. Today it serves as a focus for remembering all those UK veterans who have died in conflicts around the world.

Laura Gilman
Enquiries Officer