On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 the guns of Europe fell silent. After four years of the most bitter and devastating fighting, The War was finally over. The Armistice was signed at 5am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France on November 11, 1918. Six hours later, at 11am, the war ended. Now, over eighty years later a two-minute silence is observed throughout the country. The Royal Family, along with leading politicians and religious leaders gather at The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London for a service and all branches of the civilian and military services are represented in ceremonies throughout Britain and beyond.
Why Two Minutes?
In a letter published in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919, an Australian journalist, Edward George Honey, proposed a respectful silence to remember those who had given their lives in the First World War. This was brought to the attention of King George V and on 7 November 1919, he issued a proclamation calling for a two minute silence, where "all locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead."
What is the Cenotaph?
Originally intended as a small part of the Peace Day events of July 1919, the Cenotaph in Whitehall was designed and built by Edwin Lutyens at the request of the then Prime Minister Lloyd George. Literally meaning 'Empty Tomb' in Greek, The Cenotaph was initially a wood and plaster construction intended for the first anniversary of the Armistice in 1919. The Cenotaph, made from Portland stone, was unveiled in 1920. It bears a simple, striking inscription: "The Glorious Dead".
Why the Poppy?
Scarlet poppies grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe. The association between this delicate flower and the ruin of conflict was first made after the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th Century. Ravaged by savage battle, the bare land was transformed into fields of blood-red poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers. In late 1914, the fields of Northern Europe were once again ripped open by the conflict of WWI, causing poppies to bloom in their thousands. The flower represents the immeasurable sacrifice made by those who died in this and later conflicts. A poignant realisation of poppy symbolism can be found in the 1915 poem "[In Flanders Field]"(http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/john-mccrae-in-flanders-fields.htm "Poem"), written by John McCrae, a surgeon in the Canadian Army. He died in 1918.
The World Remembers
In this country the main observance is on the Sunday nearest 11 November, Remembrance Sunday, when ceremonies are held at local communities' War Memorials, usually organized by local branches of the Royal British Legion - an association for ex-serviceman. However in Canada and the Commonwealth, Remembrance Day is celebrated on 11 November, while in the United States they celebrate Veterans Day on the same date. Formerly known as Armistice Day; in the USA it was given this title new name after the end of World War II.
Why is it Important to Remember?
The First World War ended close a century ago, but as we move cautiously into the 21st Century, the world still remains wracked by conflict and division. There are many reasons why we should never forget what happened in the mud and carnage of places like The Somme and Ypres. Perhaps the most overriding reasons for remembrance are that we must never take peace for granted and that those generations brought up without the experience of war must be made aware of the deep sacrifices made by those on both sides of conflict who died in horrendous circumstances for their country.