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The 11th November 1918 saw the end of four years of what was arguably the most devastating war to have ever occurred. The First World War raged across Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa with an estimated 40 million people being killed or wounded in the fighting. Whole cities and landscapes were decimated in the fighting and the world would be changed forever by the consequences of the war.
In commemoration of the bravery and heroism of the many men who fought and died, and to remember the horror and futility of the war, the 11th November was designated in 1919 as a day of observation and remembrance. This tradition continues to this day, and the occasion has even grown over time. This growth is emblematic of the powers of England and the public recognising that the lessons learned from 1914–1918 are just as necessary today, as we reach the 90th anniversary of the signing of the armistice, as they were when the war ended. Perhaps this recognition is due to people seeing that the lessons aren’t just consigned to the pages of history, as today we see stagnant wars and growing death tolls still occurring.
Dr. Alan Warburton, Lancaster University’s resident specialist of the period, said that the annual Remembrance Day is of ‘fundamental importance, as it demonstrates the special nature of the armed forces within society, not only during the world wars, but before, and after them. It is important to realise and remember the personal connections that we have to these periods in history and to think of it in these terms.’
The importance placed upon discovering and remembering your own personal relationship with the past wars is emphasised by programs currently being shown by the BBC. One in particular revolves around Dan Snow and Natalie Cassidy investigating the roles played by their ancestors in the Great War.
Nowadays the Sunday nearest to the 11th November is dedicated to the many people who fought in not only the First World War but also in the many wars since. This year on the 9th November, the Queen will place a wreath on the Cenotaph in London as part of a service attended by religious leaders, politicians and both current and former members of the armed services. The service itself has changed very little in all the time that it has been conducted, various hymns are sung and prayers are read and most famously a two-minute silence is observed at 11 o’clock. The ceremony is concluded by a march past of war veterans.
Across the world the First World War and the many people who died are commemorated in similar ways. Australia and New Zealand, countries which volunteered men as members of the British Commonwealth, both remember the war on the 25th April, known to them as ANZAC day. This date is remembered as it was on this day in 1915 that the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp landed at Gallipoli, both nations see this event as a moment of great national pride due to the gallantry of the men involved and their heroic achievements during that day.
In Canada Remembrance Day is a national holiday and is celebrated in a similar fashion to the UK. America holds Veterans Day on the 11th November, which is designed to commemorate the men who fought in both of the world wars. These days of observation are seen in many other nations which fought throughout the war, however they contrast significantly with Germany which holds religious days to commemorate the dead, but has no dates of national significance for remembering fallen soldiers.
Remembrance Days the world over are crucial dates, as they remind us of the respect deserved for those who fought and died in horrific circumstances, they allow us to reflect on the cruel lessons of war and they even contribute to a countries identity and national pride.