Like many others this weekend i attended a remembrance service, personally i do so for a number of reasons i have relatives who fought and died in both WW's, i have friends and family who previously or currently serve and because i knew 9 of the 12 murdered in the remembrance day bombing.
Now apart from the obvious history of the two World Wars the act of remembrance has its own history and traditions. It always has and probably will have it's supporters and detractors!
Although the WW1 officially ended on 11th hour of the 11th month 1918 the peace treaty was not finally signed and sealed until June 1919. that summer there were a number of large scale official victory parades, some objected to triumphant military parades, and many ex-servicemen refused to participate. Therefore it was against this background dthat the decision was made that Armistice Day would be a day of remembrance, and not victory.
However it still lacked a unifying symbol or theme. The Reverend David Railton MC had first suggested a grave/memorial to a unknown solider in 1916 and in 1919 he wrote to the Dean of Westminster suggesting “There could be only one true shrine, and that, if possible, should be Westminster Abbey, the Parish Church of the Empire”.
On the 7th November 1920 unaware of each others instructions recovery squads where sent to the battlefields of the Somme, Aisne, Arras and Ypres.Their task was to recover the body of an unknown solider. Each body was transported by ambulance to the military HQ at St Pol, where an army chaplain ensured that none of the bodies had any means of identification. A senior officer then selected a body at random and the others where reburied. The selected remains were placed in a plain oak coffin on the top of which was placed a Crusader’s sword given by the King.
It was decide that the unknown warrior would receive the highest form of military funeral (a Field Marshal’s funeral) At the time the government was unsure how the ceremony would be received by the public, post war Britain was racked by civil unrest and strikes....
The Story of the Unknown Warrior. Michael Gavaghan. Oxford Press 1995Thursday 11th November 1920. London was throbbing. Along the route from Victoria to Westminster crowds were six or seven deep, but the area around the Grenadier Guards was cordoned off. At 9:20 a.m. eight Guardsmen raised the coffin and moved it to an awaiting gun carriage. On the coffin were placed a war-torn Union Flag, a steel helmet and the side arms of a private soldier.
The party waited in bright November sunlight as a nineteen-gun salute boomed out from Hyde Park. Moving into position for the 3,960 yard route were the massed bands of the Household Division. Also taking up position were twelve distinguished pall bearers including Field Marshal Earl Haig, all of who were either Admirals, Generals or Air Marshals, some of whom were Knights.
The party moved off in slow time to the Funeral March and the sound of muffled drums with black cloth. Six black horses pulled the carriage, and to the rear, mourners including 400 ex-servicemen. Flags and guards lined the route and as the procession passed the street lining soldiers, they reversed their arms and lowered their heads.
At 10:20 a.m. the King, dressed in the uniform of a Field Marshal took up his position at the new and unseen Cenotaph which was covered by two huge flags. As the gun carriage came to rest in front of the King he saluted and placed a wreath with inscription in his own hand on the coffin. After a hymn there was silence as the crowd waited for Big Ben... On the last chime the King unveiled the austere grey mass for all to see, and silence was observed across the nation.
The parade re-formed behind the Unknown Warrior and the King and moved off to Westminster Abbey where a thousand widows had gathered. The parade halted and the bearer party of Coldstream Guards laid their rifles on the grass and moved into position. There was deep silence as the king saluted the tall Guardsmen as they raised their comrade. Never had any hero had such a ceremony as the coffin moved up a line of one hundred Victoria Cross holders, and made its way to the new grave with impeccable military precision.
The coffin was lowered into the grave. The King was handed a silver shell filler with earth from the Flanders’ battlefield which he sprinkled over the coffin. The grave was partly filled with Flanders soil making part of the Abbey forever a foreign field. The Last Post and Reveille broke the silence. As dignitaries left the Abbey four sentries were mounted as two vans arrived from HMS Verdun with the wreaths from France. Over one and a half million filed past the Grave over the next 16 days.
Westminster Abbey is the resting-place for dozens of Kings and Queens of England. The grave of the Unknown Warrior lies set in the floor in front of the West Entrance to the Abbey. It is covered by a slab of black Tournai marble and is surrounded by poppies and greenery; it holds pride of place within the Abbey.
Following on from the funeral of the unknown warrior and as so many servicemen had died without funerals and had no marked grave local community's decide they to required a memorial. Local memorials were erected throughout the 1920's to serve as a focal point for friends, family and community to remember.
In 1921 artificial poppies were sold to support the Earl Haig fund and the profits supported ex-servicemen in need, and in 1934 the Peace Pledge Union began to sell white poppies. From 1920-25 Armistice Day balls where held in many towns as a way of celebrating the announcement of peace but as time passed it was felt that these dances conflicted with the somberness of the remembrance.
During WW2 Armistice Day became a rather low key event as it was felt all efforts should be focused on the present WW. From 1945 both WW's were remembered on the Sunday closest to 11 November (Remembrance Sunday). This signified a real change in the nature of the ceremony as previously a two minute silence had been intertwined with the fabric of daily life usually during a normal working day. BBC - Remembrance - Two minute silence
in 1987 the PIRA decided that Remembrance Sunday services were legitimate targets and planted bombs at Enniskillen and Tullyhommon. BBC NEWS | UK | Who knew about Enniskillen plans?
In 1996 the two minute silence on the 11th hour of the 11th month was restored. Joe Moran: The two-minute silence keeps a delicate balance between public coercion and private reflection | Comment is free | The Guardian
In 2012 Taoiseach Enda Kenny laid a wreath at Enniskillen and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore in Belfast.
BBC News - Enda Kenny in Enniskillen Remembrance tribute
For those unlikely ever to attend Remembrance Sunday yesterday was a cold but dry morning, crowds gathered from 10.30, a silver band lead the parade consisting of RBL veterans, PSNI, Army Cadets, Fire service, St john's Ambulance etc. upon forming up at the memorial the national anthem is played and all standards lowered, the ode to remembrance is read and replied to ('we will remember them') followed by the last post and two minutes silence, approx 50 wreaths are laid and the parade then reforms and proceeds to the C of I cathedral for church service. its a somber dignified and somewhat haunting experience as it's unusual to be in the presence of a large silent crowd.