One hundred years ago this November 2019 the first-ever Remembrance Day was observed in Britain and the Commonwealth.
The first Remembrance Day was conducted in 1919 throughout the Commonwealth and Britain. Originally called Armistice Day, it commemorated the end of hostilities of the Great War in 1918. It came to symbolise the end of the war and provide an opportunity to remember those who had died.
In a letter published in the London Evening News on the 8th of May 1919, Australian journalist Edward George Honey proposed a respectful silence to remember those who had given their lives in the Great War. This suggestion was brought to the attention of King George V, and on the 7th of November 1919, four days before the first anniversary of Armistice Day (as it was originally named), King George V announced that a two-minute silence would be observed, and thus began Remembrance Day as we know it today:
"All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead." - King George V
Two features of that first Armistice Day are still central to today’s commemoration: the two-minute silence and the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Prime Minister David Lloyd George asked architect Edwin Lutyens to design a structure for a ‘Peace Day’ parade in London; his initial design was sketched on the back of a napkin, and from that, a temporary version of the Cenotaph was erected. On the first-ever Remembrance Day, nearly 15,000 troops took part; however, many veterans refused to participate in what they saw as a 'militaristic celebration'. Cenotaph means 'empty tomb' and the first wood and plaster structure by Edwin Lutyens was replaced by a permanent structure built from Portland stone between 1919 and 1920 by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts.
In November 1920, to honour servicemen with no named grave, the ‘Unknown Warrior’ was buried in Westminster Abbey. It was hoped that this ceremony would provide an emotional or spiritual relief to survivors. The tomb contained the body of an anonymous, ordinary serviceman, who had been picked at random and laid to rest in the Abbey in the morning. By that afternoon tens of thousands of people had walked past the grave, and over a million people visited it in its first week.
So, what was Remembrance Day like in the early years? There were certainly church services, much the same as today, and the Forces’ chaplain spoke at the Cenotaph. It was also a day not just for remembrance, but for looking forward, and throughout the country meetings were held, attended by thousands, in support of the League of Nations. Local war memorials were erected throughout the 1920s. At annual ceremonies the names of the dead were read out loud, and so the awful silence was accompanied by a vocal acknowledgement
After the end of the Second World War in 1945 Armistice Day became Remembrance Day to include all those who had fallen in the two World Wars and other conflicts. Now, this anniversary on the 11th November is used to remember all the people who've fought and died in wars since World War I including soldiers from WWII, and other conflicts including the Falklands War, the Gulf War, and conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On Remembrance Day we take 2 minutes to silently pay respects to the millions of heroes who served for and protected their country. We also thank all those who are currently serving, especially those deployed overseas, facing new dangers day after day.