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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Rememberance 100

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the 100th such commemoration, and it is a hopefully unique one. For the first time it has had to be, if not entirely cancelled, but heavily restricted due to the dreaded Chinese Lung Lurgy. This got me wondering about Remembrance Sunday, and its history, so I decided to do a bit of reading and this article is the result of that.

Although the fighting had stopped on the 11th of November 1918, the peace treaty was not signed until 28th of June 1919. With the war fully over, thoughts began to turn to a national day of remembrance. This was due to the fact that from 1915 British casualties had been buried in France, and not repatriated. This left the friends and families of the fallen with no body to bury, no accessible grave site to mourn at (although a trip to France was possible, it was far beyond the means of many) and no focus for their remembrance. 

Commonwealth Cemetery in the early years.


At a meeting on the 5th of November 1919, the cabinet and PM discussed how to commemorate the fallen. It was decided that on Tuesday the 11th a three-minute silence would be held. There had been some opposition to both the idea, and the length of the silence. Oddly, the main arguments against were that some future generation might find the precedent ‘inconvenient’. There was also the concern that a three-minute silence might prove too much of a ‘strain’. What might be strained was not recorded, one presumes the older or injured veterans were the main driving point here. The idea for remembrance was agreed by the cabinet, assuming the King approved as well.
It is of no surprise that the King did agree, and thus the following week, crowds gathered at the newly completed Cenotaph in London, and at local war memorials which dot every village, town and city in the UK. At the Cenotaph the crowds were reportedly so dense and deep flowers and wreaths had to be passed forwards, surfing over the crowd to be piled at the base of the memorial. 

The moment of unveiling on the 11th of November 1919

During the earlier cabinet meeting it had been proposed that a silence of one minute be adopted. It seems that for commemorations the following year the difference between the one- and three-minutes silence were decided by splitting the difference. And now the UK has its two-minute silence. Equally, to avoid the concerns about the effect on daily life it was moved to a Sunday, and Remembrance Sunday was born. The ideas behind it were communicated around the world to the dominions and the Commonwealth, this is why many countries follow the UK pattern.

The Cenotaph on the first Remembrance Sunday in 1920. As you can see the tributes paid surpassed the previous year.

Several years later, in 1940, the UK was suffering the Blitz as Remembrance Sunday rolled round. There was no official ceremony, apart from wreaths laid from the Prime minister, the King & Queen, Queen Mary, the Admiralty, the War Office and the R.A.F. However, this did not stop Remembrance Sunday, as in London many held an unofficial two minutes silence, which was interrupted by the wail of an air raid siren. Those involved in the silence, held their ground and ignored the alert. Luckily it proved to be a false alarm. Other services were held around the country, each according to the requirements.

Some services also included those lost in the Second World War to date, and one was dedicated to the Commonwealth War Grave Commission staff who had tended the cemeteries in France, but whom were now cut off. In reality, it was a false worry. Most of the First World War cemeteries were fully respected by the Germans, although a couple were destroyed, due to how they portrayed the Germans. For example, the one French war memorial described the Germans as barbarians, another showed an Australian bayoneting a German Eagle. Both were destroyed. 


Hitler visiting the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge.

However, the Germans did not respect Remembrance Sunday. At 1900 on Sunday the 10th the air raid sirens screamed, signalling the continuation of the nightly Blitz. That night the worst hit area was Greenwich, with nine killed and forty-eight injured. The deaths came when two separate shelters suffered direct hits in two locations. But as usual there would have been deaths and injuries across the city. In Westminster the National Gallery took a direct hit although the device failed to explode. In Stoke Newington there were a further twelve dud bombs as well. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, this was the start of a lull in the Blitz bombing due to an increase in bad weather, although the bombing would continue until May the following year. 


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