On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, in the eleventh month…
In 1918, the armistice ending World War I signed at Compiègne, France went into effect ceasing fire on the Western Front. Eight months later, on June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles formally ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Forces.
French Marshal Ferdinand Foch orchestrated the major points of the armistice, which was signed in a railway car in the woods at Compiègne.
[Sidebar: Compiègne (both town and château) and its woodlands are quite lovely and you should visit them if you are ever in the Paris area, it’s a short train trip from the city, and is marred by much less mayhem than Versailles.]
President Woodrow Wilson inaugurated Remembrance Day in 1919, thusly:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
The holiday was renamed Veterans Day after World War II. In nations of the Commonwealth, November 11th is still referred to as Remembrance Day.
Most people are probably familiar with the red poppy as a symbol of this day. I recall as a child, every once in a while my mother would make a donation at an intersection and we would receive a paper or cloth poppy to twist around the rear-view mirror. Have not seen that recently though, ponderful.
The poem In Flanders Fields written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in 1915. It is from the popularity of the poem and the ubiquity of poppies it describes in battlefield and makeshift cemeteries that the flower is known in this context as the Remembrance Poppy.
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.
Amidst all the cosmic excited surrounding the advent of 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 (which has apparently caused the Great Pyramids of Giza to be closed to the public today), it would behoove us to remember the men and women to whom we owe so much on a day to remember veterans.
To take one more sidebar: The wearing of the symbolic poppy on Remembrance Day in Britain was deemed so crucial, that Prince William, President of the British Football Association, apparently got real with FIFA on the topic of poppies and footballers. English football/soccer players wanted to wear embroidered poppies on their uniforms for games held this weekend. FIFA’s determination to be apolitical resulted in a resounding ban on the poppies, so the Duke sent a harsh missive their way, using such terms as “dismay” at FIFA’s decision, declaring that “the poppy is a universal symbol of remembrance, which has no political, religious or commercial connotations.”
FIFA has given in, and players are permitted to wear arm bands emblazoned with poppies for the games this Remembrance Day weekend.