When I google Veterans Day, the first thing that pops up is a list of websites about Veterans Day deals. When I google Remembrance Day, I get articles about the emotionality of the day; the soldiers’ mental health; and a reflection on the 98 years since the end of World War I.
One thing I noticed about living in the UK was that they take Remembrance Day much more seriously than we take Veterans Day in the US. I haven’t heard anything about it here, although I know some friends have work off and I found out on my Google Maps that there will be a parade on 5th Avenue today. But otherwise, nothing. In England (and all over the Commonwealth for that matter), there are observed silences, ceremonies, and speeches. I’m sure that happens in the States, too, but I haven’t ever experienced much.
The thing that stands out most about Remembrance Day in the UK and its stark contrast with Veterans Day are poppies. When I walked around London, I’d see poppies everywhere: along Victoria Embankment, on just about everyone’s lapels, and in the moat of the Tower of London. There would be members from the Poppy Appeal outside all the Tube stations and along major roads.
The poppy has become such a popular symbol because of the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. After reading the poem, a professor at the University of Georgia, Moina Michael, wrote the poem “We Shall Remember” in response, pledging to wear a red poppy on the anniversary of the armistice. The tradition continues today, and is the British Legion’s largest fundraising campaign. People wear the poppies on their lapels to remember fallen servicemen and women who have been killed in conflict.
So I thought I’d write this post to show the beauty and the significance of the poppies, especially if you haven’t been to Britain or another such country around this time of year. They truly are breathtaking and make you think about the significance of war and all the casualties it brings.
Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
When I was in London, there was an installation at the Tower of London to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.
The installation, created by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, marked 100 years since the first full day of British involvement in the First World War. 888,246 ceramic poppies slowly filled the Tower of London moat that autumn, each representing a British military fatality during the war. On 17 July, the first poppy was “planted” and Tuesday, 11 November, a thirteen-year-old army cadet planted the last one. I volunteered with the dismantling of the installation (a truly humbling experience), so I got a close-up view of the installation. As you can see below, it was breathtaking.
It’s hard to imagine 888,246 of anything, but when you see that number staring you in the face like it is with these photos, you can see just how much that number is. Each poppy is a life. Each one was individually hand-crafted, planted, and picked. And these poppies are only from one war. Take some time today and remember just how many more poppies there would be if there was a campaign to count all lives as poppies from all wars. After that, be thankful for those who fight for your country.