Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More about Poppy Day

Now that you know a bit more about Remembrance Day, more commonly referred to as Poppy Day, I’ll give you a more personal connection to the day.

my grandmotherThe 11th of November is also the date of my grandmother’s birthday – she was born in 1914, the year World War I started. Her father died during the war and is buried in Flanders Fields, the fields whose poppies gave their name to Poppy Day. I don’t recall if she was born while he was away on duty or if he actually got to see his daughter before he went off to war. But whatever the chronology of events, to all intents and purposes she never got to see him as she would have been too young to have remembered him had he been around during and after her birth. Towards the end of her life she used to get drunk and maudlin about several things, mostly the death of her daughter, my mother, but sometimes she’d talk about the father she had never known.

Many years after her death, my brother inherited a lot of family odds and ends on the death of my uncle. Amongst those items were four letters written to my grandmother by her father from the battle front. Although my brother inherited all of the items as my uncle and I were no longer on speaking terms, he and I shared the items – I got to keep the letters. I wish I could transcribe them here but they are at my home in Cape Town.

They make terribly poignant reading.

On reading them, you can imagine the pain and longing of a young soldier fighting in the terrible conditions of the First World War and thinking of his young daughter at home. You can also imagine how a young girl who never knew her father reacted to receiving those letters from her mother. And you can imagine how a strong woman who led a fascinating life to the fullest hung on to those letters all her life and how they would still affect her towards the end of her life.

My children never knew my grandmother but they are terribly moved when they read the letters written by their great great grandfather.

Rembrance Day PoppiesUpdate on the origins of Remembrance Day:

Doing a bit more googling on Remembrance Day, I came across some information that suggests that an Australian, Edward Honey, suggested the idea of the commemorative silence 5 months before Sir Percy FitzPatrick. Quoting from the article:

The concept of a remembrance silence appears to have originated with an Australian journalist, Edward George Honey, who had served briefly in World War One with an English regiment before being discharged due to ill health. Honey was born in St Kilda, Melbourne, in 1885 and died of consumption in England in 1922.

In 1962, a group of Melbourne citizens formed a committee to obtain recognition for Honey as the man 'who taught the world how to remember'. For many years, a South African politician, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, had been credited with the idea. The Melbourne committee succeeded in establishing that 'the solemn ceremony of silence now observed in all British countries in remembrance of those who died in war' was first published by Edward Honey.

Honey published a letter in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919 under the pen name of Warren Foster, in which he appealed for five-minute silence amid all the joy making planned to celebrate the first anniversary of the end of the War. 'Five little minutes only', he wrote, 'Five silent minutes of national remembrance. A very sacred intercession … Communion with the Glorious Dead who won us peace, and from the communion new strength, hope and faith in the morrow. Church services, too, if you will, but in the street, the home, the theatre, anywhere, indeed, where Englishmen and their women chance to be, surely in this five minutes of bitter-sweet silence there will be service enough'.

No official action was taken on the idea, however, until, more that five months later, on 27 October 1919, one Lord Milner forwarded a suggestion from his friend, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, to the King's private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, for a period of silence on Armistice Day, 11 November, in all countries of the British Empire.

Sir Percy wrote, 'When we are gone it may help bring home to those who will come after us, the meaning, the nobility and the unselfishness of the great sacrifice by which their freedom was assured'.

King George V was evidently very moved by the idea and took it up immediately. There is no record that Sir Percy was prompted by Honey's letter in the London Evening News, but with the King, both Honey and Sir Percy attended a rehearsal for a five-minute silence involving the Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace. Five minutes proved too long and the two-minute interval was decided upon.

On 7 November 1919 the King issued a proclamation asking 'that at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, there may be for the brief space of two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities … so that in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead'.

Some more links:
BBC
Wikipedia - includes some information on South African celebrations of the event
British Legion

14 Comments:

Blogger andrea said...

Great post; thanks for both the history lesson and the family connection. I just discovered today that Remembrance Day is not a holiday in all Commonwealth countries (or even in all provinces in Canada), much to my surprise. [And here's my bit of Poppy Day trivia: "In Flanders Fields" was written by L-C John McCrae, a doctor who served with the Royal Canadian Medical Corps.]

9:39 pm  
Blogger ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

Ditto.
I don't even know if Poppy Day is still commemorated in So Africa. I remember as a child poppies being sold on the streets of CT. I never quite understand what it was for, but knew it had something to do with the WW1. My parents always bought them.
With the distancing of ourselves from out colonial past, it may not be perceived as relevant.

6:34 am  
Blogger BUDDESS said...

Poppy day is still celebrated here in SA by a few people who lost loved ones in the war. I also remember it being a much bigger event when I was growing up. I still have a poppy that I bought at school one year. It is in my little box of things I simply can't throw away.

9:45 am  
Blogger GAMBIT said...

I too have a poppy from a poppy day many years ago. And before you ask I do not did it out each year but get a new onw and donate to a very worthwhile cause. The younger generation are starting to forget the sacrifices of their grandparents. Maybe they dont need to know the horrors of war but should be made to understand the need to remember these brave people.

3:03 pm  
Blogger Lee said...

Goodness, what a clever and marvellous post that was.

4:45 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

From one whose brains glitter so much that is praise indeed! Thank you :-)

4:55 pm  
Blogger kleverkloggs said...

What a beautiful lady your grandmother was.

10:31 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

kleverkloggs: thank you. she was Miss England 1932 - I will post more about her another time

12:31 pm  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

What a lovely, lovely post. I'm so glad to have stumbled upon it via Patita's place.

Did you ever write the post about your grandmother? She was quite the looker.

11:35 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Hi Jennifer, thanks for popping by. I did write about her one more time but I really ought to write more about her at some stage.

7:57 pm  
Anonymous Pierce said...

Thank you for the post, really useful data.
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12:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Poppy Day" in some Commonwealth countries is just the day the local Legion distributes them, as a club fundraiser. November 11th, the original Armistice Day, now renamed Remembrance Day has been the day of mourning for our militaryFallen since 1921, been the focus, the Legion fundraising of the lapel/wreath replicas beginning at the end of October, through to that date itself - at the end of which it has been the custom to place one's poppy on our decade-old Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, Ontario, our nation's capital. The UK observes the anniversary on Sunday nearest
November 11th, and holds a poppy "tag" day prior. A danger with too much focus on the "logo" the poppy image, the Fundraising aspects is that the purpose of Remembrance events is overlooked.

10:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea - a federal statutory public holiday is discussed here from time to time, but feeling is that it not really an occasion for people to have a paid day off, when the battlefield deaths were where that was not an option.
"In Flanders Fields" was composed in Belgium 1915, May 3, in contemplation of fresh graves - and the need to have replacements to go on to victory , so the sacrifice of life wasn't meaningless.
But the poem only "went viral" in England, PUNCH magazin, December 8, author not identified. More on McCrae if you google VIRTUAL WAR MEMORIAL at out Vets Affairs website, and Search McCrae, John 1918, also Lt. Helmer Alexis 1915. regards, Nell in Ontario.
The first country-wide use of the lapel poppy, brought to us by Mme. Anna Guerin of France, in aid of her Paris war orphan homes, was with the support of the Great War Veterans Association, who shared the proceeds. All sorts of people distributed them - women's groups, schools, churches - not just military interests.
From there she approach Earl Haig in England, and sent her devices out to Australia, New Zealand (ship so late they missed Nov.11)Soon she bowed out and Legion groups took over production, distribution and profits.

11:04 pm  
Anonymous Mrs. Menin said...

"Poppy Day" is not interchangeable with Remembrance Day, formerly Armistice Day, November 11th, solemn day of honouring the memory of the Fallen
That term is used some places for a money oriented'Tag' Day, when people stand in public places offering the replicas in return for a donation to the sponsoring agency. Usually a Legion although the practice began in Canada in 1921 with the joint beneficiaries of orphanages for children of war-devastated France and Great War Veterans Associations 1917-1925.
It is recorded that when the practice dea was introduded to the US some warveterans objected to helping war victims when all the money could be used for their Returned Soldiers. Lacking support, Mme Guerin simply went north to Canada where her work was supported and using this network established the tradition we have today. But the Legion does not confine offering replica poppies to a single day - It starts formally end October with presentation of one to the Governer General, the Queen's personal representative out here

7:19 pm  

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