Tomorrow is November 11th, in the US that is Veterans Day and here in the UK it is Remembrance Day and Armistice Day. While in the US Veterans Day honors those who have served in the armed forces, Remembrance Day in the UK remembers those who have died in the line of duty, more like Memorial Day in the US. Armistice Day marks the end of WWI on the Western Front when a ceasefire took place on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” in 1918.
If you have ever been to the UK in the period prior to Remembrance Day you will see people wearing poppies in their lapels. I was vaguely aware of what they meant, but it was on a day trip to Durham, England a few weeks ago that I saw an abundance of poppies. There were in lapels, they were being given our from containers on street corners and the man in the photo below had a whole table full of poppy items available for a donation. In Edinburgh I have been seeing them on the sides of buses and at check out counters in stores. Donations benefit the British Royal Legion which helps those currently serving in the armed forces, veterans and their families.
The selection of the poppy as the symbol for Armistice Day and then Remembrance Day is as international as WWI itself was. A Canadian officer wrote a poem called “In Flanders Fields” after seeing the resilient poppies blooming on scarred battlefields, the first red silk poppies were made by Moina Michael, an American, and the flowers were brought to the UK by a French woman, Anna Guerin. Almost 100 years later, the poppy is still the symbol of remembrance.
I went to a display at Scott Monument in Edinburgh a few days ago.
The smaller crosses in rows all said “In Remembrance”, but some had names and ages of loved ones handwritten on them. I saw one that said “for dad”.
You do not see as much remembrance for WWI as you do in the UK, but you have to remember that the US did not enter the war until much later, after the Battle of the Somme had already taken place. The UK also had a much higher percentage of its population killed or wounded than the US.
In thinking about Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, I started thinking in general about observing holidays overseas, whether they are occurring when you visit a different country or when you are living there. We continue to observe our own holidays, but also honor our host country by observing and learning about theirs. When we lived in Japan, Sam and I paid a New Year’s Day visit to a shrine as is the custom. In Italy we put out gifts on January 5th (Epiphany Eve) from Befana, an old witch who delivers gifts to children. Next week we will host an American Thanksgiving dinner for friends here in Edinburgh to share that tradition with them.
So while traveling or living overseas take the time to take part in local holidays and traditions and share your own with your hosts.
Finally, whether you are observing Veterans Day or Remembrance Day tomorrow
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
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.
written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae over 100 years ago