The Armistice on 11 November 1918 which ended the First World War is commemorated in many different ways throughout the world. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. The war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.
In the United States of America, the commemoration was originally called Armistice Day but has been known as Veterans Day since 1954. It is a federal holiday in the United States observed annually on November 11, for honoring military veterans, that is, persons who have served in the United States Armed Forces (and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable). Veterans Day is distinct from Memorial Day, a U.S. public holiday in May. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day honors those who have died while in military service. There is another military holiday, Armed Forces Day, a minor U.S. remembrance that also occurs in May, which honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.
Remembrance Day (sometimes known informally as Poppy Day owing to the tradition of the remembrance poppy) is observed in Commonwealth member states to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919, the day is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. The tradition of Remembrance Day evolved out of Armistice Day. The initial Armistice Day was observed at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a “Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic” during the evening hours of 10 November 1919. The first official Armistice Day was subsequently held on the grounds of Buckingham Palace the following morning. During the Second World War, many countries changed the name of the holiday. Member states of the Commonwealth of Nations adopted Remembrance Day, while the United States chose Veterans Day.
“Armistice Day” remains the name of the holiday in France (“Armistice de la Première Guerre mondiale“) and Belgium. This is one of the most important military celebrations in France, since World War I was a major French victory and the French paid a heavy price in blood to achieve it. The First World War was considered in France as the “Great Patriotic War”. Almost all French villages feature memorials dedicated to those fallen during the conflict. In France the blue cornflower (Bleuet de France) is used symbolically rather than the poppy.
On November 11, 1919, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson issued a message to his countrymen on the first Armistice Day, in which he expressed what he felt the day meant to Americans:
ADDRESS TO FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN
The White House, November 11, 1919.
A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half.
With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we remodeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought.
Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men.
To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.
The United States Congress adopted a resolution on June 4, 1926, requesting that President Calvin Coolidge issue annual proclamations calling for the observance of November 11 with appropriate ceremonies. A Congressional Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U.S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made November 11 in each year a legal holiday: “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.”
In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks from Birmingham, Alabama, had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I. Weeks led a delegation to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who supported the idea of National Veterans Day. Weeks led the first national celebration in 1947 in Alabama and annually until his death in 1985. President Reagan honored Weeks at the White House with the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 as the driving force for the national holiday. Elizabeth Dole, who prepared the briefing for President Reagan, determined Weeks as the “Father of Veterans Day.”
U.S. Representative Ed Rees from Emporia, Kansas, presented a bill establishing the holiday through Congress. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, also from Kansas, signed the bill into law on May 26, 1954. It had been eight and a half years since Weeks held his first Armistice Day celebration for all veterans.
Congress amended the bill on June 1, 1954, replacing “Armistice” with “Veterans,” and it has been known as Veterans Day since.
The National Veterans Award was also created in 1954. Congressman Rees of Kansas received the first National Veterans Award in Birmingham, Alabama, for his support offering legislation to make Veterans Day a federal holiday.
Although originally scheduled for celebration on November 11 of every year, starting in 1971 in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. In 1978, it was moved back to its original celebration on November 11. While the legal holiday remains on November 11, if that date happens to be on a Saturday or Sunday, then organizations that formally observe the holiday will normally be closed on the adjacent Friday or Monday, respectively. Non-essential federal government offices are closed. No mail is delivered. All federal workers are paid for the holiday; those who are required to work on the holiday sometimes receive holiday pay for that day in addition to their wages.
While the holiday is commonly printed as Veteran’s Day or Veterans’ Day in calendars and advertisements (spellings that are grammatically acceptable), the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website states that the attributive (no apostrophe) rather than the possessive case is the official spelling “because it is not a day that ‘belongs’ to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans.”
The common British, Canadian, South African, and ANZAC tradition includes a one- or two-minute silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (11:00 am, 11 November), as that marks the time (in the United Kingdom) when the armistice became effective.
The first two-minute silence held in London (11 November 1919) was reported in the Manchester Guardian on 12 November 1919:
The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect.
The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition.
Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.
The Service of Remembrance in many Commonwealth countries generally includes the sounding of the “Last Post”, followed by the period of silence, followed by the sounding of “Reveille” or sometimes just “The Rouse” (often confused for each other), and finished by a recitation of the “Ode of Remembrance”. The “Flowers of the Forest”, “O Valiant Hearts”, “I Vow to Thee, My Country” and “Jerusalem” are often played during the service. Services also include wreaths laid to honor the fallen, a blessing, and national anthems.
The central ritual at cenotaphs throughout the Commonwealth is a stylized night vigil. The Last Post was the common bugle call at the close of the military day, and The Rouse was the first call of the morning. For military purposes, the traditional night vigil over the slain was not just to ensure they were indeed dead and not unconscious or in a coma, but also to guard them from being mutilated or despoiled by the enemy, or dragged off by scavengers. This makes the ritual more than just an act of remembrance but also a pledge to guard the honor of war dead. The act is enhanced by the use of dedicated cenotaphs (literally Greek for “empty tomb”) and the laying of wreaths — the traditional means of signaling high honors in ancient Greece and Rome.
On 11 November 2018, the centenary of the World War One Armistice, commemorations were held globally. In France, more than 60 heads of government and heads of state gathered at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
While a number of stamp-issuing entities released stamps last year to mark the centenary of the end of World War I, I believe only Alderney — part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands — has marked the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day with a stamp. Issued today, the souvenir sheet features a poppy and is described on the Guernsey Post website:
The 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day is our final 2019 issue for Alderney and is a beautiful miniature sheet with a poppy shaped stamp.
Letters and poems from WW1 soldiers sent back from the trenches make up the background design.
The French and Belgian countryside was devastated by the mechanics of the First World War but with their seeds exposed by the fighting, resilient red poppies fought back and thrived in the churned-up landscape, growing in their thousands on the battlefields of Flanders.
Many soldiers fighting on the Frontline wrote about the poppies in their letters home to loved ones.
The stamp is featured on A Stamp A Day in an article that takes a more detailed look at the Remembrance Poppy itself.