BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

29 October 2014

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
Things to do
People & Places
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near Suffolk


Related BBC Sites


Contact Us




In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the First World War ended.

From this date on the 11th November became known as Armistice Day, a time for the nation to stop and remember those who sacrificed their lives defending others.

In Flanders' Fields

Some of the worst of the fighting in World War 1 occurred in the Flanders and Picardy regions of Belgium and Northern France.  Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was a surgeon serving with the Canadian Armed Forces in Ypres in the spring of 1915.   He worked at his dressing station amidst the blood and screams of the casualties from the trenches.

McCrae noticed that the only living thing that grew in the aftermath of the devastation of battle was the blood-red wild poppy.  He felt inspired to write the poem, "In Flanders' Fields" which remains to this day as one of the most memorable war poems ever written.  Here is the first verse of the poem, which he is said to have written in 20 minutes, whilst standing close to the grave of a young friend:

Poppies growing wild
Poppies growing wild

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.

The tradition begins

At the end of World War I an American War Secretary, Moina Michael, who had read McCrae's poem, embarked on the idea of selling poppies to friends to raise funds for ex-service personnel and their families.

The first official Royal British Legion Poppy Day took place in Britain on 11th November 1921 and since then the Poppy Appeal has continued as an annual event.

Poppy Factory

In 1922, a young infantry officer, Major George Howson, formed the Disabled Society to help disabled ex-service men and women from the war.  He suggested to the Legion that members of his society could make the poppies and the Poppy Factory was founded at Richmond in the same year.

Poppy Day
Poppy Day

Seventy per cent of the workers at the Poppy Factory are disabled or suffer from chronic illness.  The original poppy was designed so that service personnel with disabilities could easily assemble it and this principle remains today.

More than 34 million poppies, 107,000 wreaths and sprays and 800,000 Remembrance Crosses will be made at the Poppy Factory this year.

The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal in 2004 raised over £23.3m.

The Royal British Legion

The Royal British Legion was formed in 1921 to represent the ex-service community.  It's the UK's leading charity providing financial and social support to millions of service and ex-service personnel and their dependants.

"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

It has over half a million members with nearly 11 million people eligible for support. The Legion receives over a quarter of a million calls for help every year.

People as young as 17½ years of age can be sent on active service, so veterans can often be younger than people realise.

Since the end of World War 2 there has only been one year when a British Service person hasn't been killed on active service (1968).

Two minute silence

The first Remembrance Day was held in 1919 to commemorate the end of hostilities the previous year. 

An Australian journalist wrote a letter to the London Evening News suggesting a respectful silence to remember those who had given their lives in the First World War.  As a result of this King George V issued a proclamation which called for a two minute silence:

"All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead."

After the end of the World War 2 in 1945 Armistice Day became Remembrance Day to include all those who had fallen in the two World Wars and later conflicts.

Remembrance Sunday

Medals on War Veteran
Medals on War Veteran

Remembrance Sunday falls on the second Sunday in November.  At 11am a two minute silence is observed at war memorials, railway stations and shopping malls throughout the country. 

The Royal family, politicians and religious leaders attend a service at The Cenotaph in Whitehall.  The ceremony involves civilian and military personnel from Britain and the Commonwealth.

The service at The Cenotaph has changed little since it was first introduced in 1921, and it always ends with a march past of war veterans.

The Cenotaph

The Cenotaph in Whitehall was designed and built by Edwin Lutyens.  'Cenotaph' means 'empty tomb' in Greek. 

The Cenotaph, Whitehall
The Cenotaph, Whitehall

It was originally only a temporary construction designed for the first commemoration in 1919.  The base was covered in wreaths to honour the dead and missing from World War 1. 

The tradition continued and the first Cenotaph was replaced with one made from Portland stone.  It was unveiled in 1920.  The inscription reads: The Glorious Dead.

Festival of Remembrance

The Festival of Remembrance is an annual event at the Royal Albert Hall to honour those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. 

Every year the Legion Poppy Factory produces thousands of poppy petals, which fall from the ceiling at the end of the ceremony.

Field of Remembrance

In 1928 the first Field of Remembrance was opened in the grounds of Westminster Abbey.  The first Remembrance Crosses, which have a poppy in the centre, were produced at the Poppy Factory in 1931.

This tradition at Westminster Abbey continues with the sea of scarlet poppies and Remembrance crosses remaining in place for one week.  

last updated: 10/11/05
Go to the top of the page

Slave notice and Thomas Clarkson
The Suffolk man who campaigned against the slave trade

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy