Why we commemorate Remembrance Day – Monday 11th November

Thursday 07 November 2019

The first of the two World Wars (WW1) began at the end of July 1914, it quickly escalated to include some of Africa, Asia and the United States.

For a good portion of the war a set of trenches was dug in disputed territories throughout rural areas of France and Belgium.  English and German soldiers lived in these trenches through; the stifling, suffocating heat of the Summer, sludge and deluges in the Spring, and freezing cold conditions in Winter. 

Battles were organised would often begin from their trench ‘homes’ a system which was referred to as, ‘going over the top’.  Some soldiers barely made in out of the trench and 1000s often died in these attacks.  Afterwards casualties would sometimes be left where they were shot down, it was not unheard of for soldiers to have to live alongside decaying bodies of friends, shot down in combat. 

Due to the dampness and unsanitary conditions also, often soldiers’ feet would become mouldy and a condition called ‘trench foot’ came about in which their boot grew into their damp skin.  These weren’t professional soldiers.  These were ordinary men who were often ‘conscripted’ to join the army, or convinced that they would be forever heros if they joined up to ‘help defend their country’. 

They weren’t heros and acknowledgement and healthcare offered to soldiers offered to the war afterwards was the bare minimum.  This was the first time we ever heard of the term ‘shell shock’ which is now recognised more under the term, ‘post trauma stress disorder.’  The soldiers themselves created this name to describe symptoms such as; severe fatigue, incontrollable body tremors and shaking, terror, confusion, nightmares and re-experiencing of stressful memories. 

There was no mental health care back then.  These soldiers were expected to go back to their civilian lifestyles and their day jobs.  They weren’t offered counselling, or therapy and it was many years before their mental health issues were recognised in society at all.  Many became withdrawn and deeply depressed, some died shortly afterwards due to the damage severe stress has upon overall health. 

UK citizens have remained shocked by the outcomes of ‘the Great War’ and the amount of people who have continued to suffer trauma ever since.  It is now recognised that almost all soldiers experience some amount of trauma, regardless of how well they are trained prior to war.

World War 1 ended at 11am on 11th day of the 11th month in 1914.  This date has been commemorated and called ‘remembrance day’.

“Lest we forget” is a phrase that has become synonymous, with 11th November, Remembrance day.  This phrase actually comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, echoing the importance remembering difficult experiences, in order to learn from our mistakes.  

Remembrance day has been commemorated with the symbol of a poppy since 1921.  It was observed that the wastelands that were left from the battles of the first world war, were dotted with these vivid flowers.  The poppy was first worn as a symbol of respect at a YMCA meeting in November 2018 and quickly gathered popularity, as a way to symbolise one’s sympathy.

Much of Europe also recognises this date of 11/11, along with Australia and the US who have referred to it as ‘Veterans Day’ since the Vietnam War became more recently poignant. 

Purchases of poppies go to charities which now recognise the aftercare and support required by soldiers who have fought for their countries and the ensuing effects that their experiences also have upon their families.

“lest we forget”