Every year at this time, Remembrance Day is commemorated in Australia, paying respect to the men and women who have served and continue to serve during times of war, conflict, and peace. Remembrance Day’s origins lie in fact in the celebrations that came with the end of the First World War. It was on the 11th of November 1918 that the armistice was signed, and the fighting was officially declared as over. A year later, nations across the Commonwealth marked the 1 year anniversary of the end of the war with ceremonies on the 11th of November that would at that time be known as ‘Armistice Day’ – the day the Armistice that ended the war was signed.

Amidst the celebrations, King George V requested a 2-minute vigil at 11 am to recognise and remember the many lives lost to families across the Empire during World War I. People everywhere stopped work to reflect, and the tradition was born. The celebratory aspect of Armistice Day of coursed faded with the onset of World War II and soon enough November 11th became a day of remembrance over celebration.

Remembrance Day is observed in workplaces, RSL clubs, schools, train stations, homes, parks, commuter traffic - and now in Zoom Rooms - all over the Commonwealth at 11 am on the 11th of November each year.

The importance of ritual

There are a few significant rituals that happen on Remembrance Day too – most of which have their own moving origin stories. The delicate but vibrant poppy flower is instantly recognisable as the flower of remembrance. The ‘Flanders Poppy’ was first referenced in a poem written by a grieving soldier during WWI, as these poppies marked the graves of fallen soldiers. In the wake of the devastating battles across northern France and Belgium, the poppies were the first flowers to return the following spring and their dramatic red colour symbolic of the blood that was spilled during the fighting. Their black centre reminds us of the silent mourning many live with every day.

Today, anyone wanting to show their respect for Remembrance Day wears a poppy in memory of the fallen, on the right side of their chest, pointing towards their heart. In many official ceremonies, the poignancy is felt with a ‘sea of red poppies’ seen as the mourners gather together in remembrance.

In ceremonial events, the 1-minute silence at 11 am is preceded by the always haunting bugle call of The Last Post. Its purpose is thought to summon the spirits of the fallen, but it is also to mark the moment in a significant way reminding everyone present of the experience of soldiers on the battlefields. The Last Post is performed by someone in uniform and can last from 45 seconds up to a minute and a half. Other significant pieces of music are often performed too, depending on the location, the ceremony, and its attendants. During the ceremony, wreaths containing poppies are laid and often seen days after Nov 11th as a lingering tribute.     

Loss comes in many packages

Of course, the collective recognition of Remembrance Day matters but the experience of it for the Veterans themselves can often be unique to the individual as loss comes in many shapes and forms. Veteran Tamara Sloper-Harding sees it as a chance to pause for thought on the day to day lives of surviving Veterans too. “For me personally, I think it’s not just about those that paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives. I also like to consider those many veterans who have lost the ability to live a ‘normal’ life. There are so many veterans in our midst who put the service of others before themselves and now bear the scars both mentally and physically of that selflessness. Bravery takes many forms and the outcomes of acts of moral courage are not always physically visible. These veterans have injuries deep in their psyche that are only just beginning to be understood.”

Tamara sees the day as an opportunity for the community to come together to acknowledge the contribution of the members of the Defence Force. “It’s a sombre day of reflection that hits me deep in the heart in only a way other veterans can understand. I feel a strong connection to the past through my relatives that served in the military and feel an obligation to do my utmost to prove worthy of their sacrifices.”

Carry On (Victoria) has been supporting Veterans and their families, by providing help where they need it most - housing, advocacy, education, and financial support. Help us make a difference, and reach more Veterans and their families in need, in times of hardship and make a donation this Remembrance  Day.