This Remembrance Day, we remember a lot more than just our Anzacs, so here's a crash course to remind you.
As a whole, Australian society is fairly familiar with how Remembrance Day goes. We pause at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, in the eleventh month, to reflect, commemorate and pay respect to the servicemen and women who lost their lives in the First World War. Nowadays though, it’s grown a bit bigger than that. We pause to respect and remember those who served in the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts as well as many extensive peacekeeping missions spanning across the globe.
So in the spirit of remembrance and in a mission for education, here's a short crash course on why we remember on Remembrance Day, and why we do all the things we do for it.
Why all the 11s?
Remembrance Day, up until the Second World War, was initially known as Armistice Day. This was due to the Germans calling for armistice (peaceful settlement) on the the fields of the Western Front (France), which eventually led to the Treaty of Versailles. The selection of 11am, on the 11th of November, was no mere happenstance. It was the precise date and time that the guns on the Western Front finally fell silent after well over four years on of continuous warfare.
Why the minute silence?
Back when commemorations of the men and women lost in the First World War began, it was suggested by an Aussie journalist that a pause of two minutes would be taken as a nation to reflect and collectively mourn the loss of millions of people. From Victorian alone, we lost 19,000 men and women to the cause, an enormous proportion of the state’s population. Globally, between 9 and 13 million were killed in World War One, and many were without graves. Believe it or not, on the opposite side of the globe, the same thing had been suggested to the King of England, and he personally requested that the British Empire observe the pause in their day. Nowadays, it’s a minute long silence and we use it to observe not only those who served and passed in the First World War, but also to remember all those who have died and suffered in various other conflicts and peacekeeping missions undertaken by Australian service men and women since.
What does the Poppy mean?
Poppies were the first plants to pop up in the shelled and pockmarked earth of northern France and Belgium. Despite the ground being inhospitable for all other plant life (and humans), these flowers the colour of blood popped up from the bruised land and became part of soldier’s folklore; they were seen as the physical manifestation of the blood of their comrades and enemies soaking the ground and becoming part of new life. The poppies became a symbol of remembrance and sacrifice, and Lieutenant Colonel John McRae, so moved by the sight of them in 1915, penned the poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’ This lead to the eventual pinning of a Poppy to clothing on Remembrance Day, an occurrence which charities (such as the RSL) undertook and used to raise funds and awareness for the welfare of returned soldiers.
In 2006, a Purple Poppy was issued to be worn alongside the Red Poppy. This poppy commemorated the service and sacrifice of animal victims of war, from the Light Horses of the First World War to the highly trained dogs of more recent conflicts such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Where can I attend a service this Remembrance Day?
You don’t have to go anywhere to observe Remembrance Day, although everyone is always welcome too. It is a sign of respect to simply pause at 11am in silence to reflect on the losses faced by Australian servicemen, women, their families and our country.
The Shrine of Remembrance, Victoria’s premier War Memorial, was built post-WWI as the grave for all servicemen and women lost, and to this day is still a place for those who have lost loved ones in conflict or peacekeeping missions may come to reflect. Their mission is also to spread a message of remembrance and education, and they aim to teach all those who wish to learn about Australian military history through the Galleries of Remembrance. On Remembrance Day, at 11am, a beam of sunlight reaches into the Sanctuary of the building for precisely 11 minutes, and crosses over the word Love on the Stone of Remembrance, a tradition observed for well over 80 years, and an experience open to the public after a Remembrance Day service at 10:30am.
Many suburbs have smaller memorials dedicated to those who lived in the area and died in action, and the RSL has many branches which often hold small ceremonies at these locations. Contact your local RSL here to find out more.
What do I do now?
Our service men and women do a lot for our country, at the sacrifice of their health, safety, and often their lives.
Organisations such as Soldier On do a lot of work to help those who have returned from recent conflicts and peacekeeping missions, as well as their families, cope with the fallout of such a life, and help these people rebuild healthy lives and vibrant communities.
Legacy have been around since post-WWI and are still helping out the families, particularly children, who have family members serving.
V360 is a new charity which helps get homeless Veterans off the streets.
The Shrine of Remembrance hold extensive education and outreach programs for school children to help them understand and reflect on the conflicts and efforts our servicemen and women have lived through.
All these non-profits benefit from your observation of Remembrance Day, and welcome donations, resources and questions in their mission.
Want more info?
Shrine of Remembrance