Remembrance Day: Why we remember on 11 November23 October 2023
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – Remembrance Day – is a time to not only remember those who have given their lives in service, but also to reflect on the historical events that led to this day of international significance.
Originally announced to mark the anniversary of the Armistice that ended fighting with Germany in World War I (WWI), Remembrance Day today gives us all the opportunity to acknowledge the service personnel who died while serving, whether in wars, conflicts or peacekeeping operations.
SIGNATURES THAT ENDED FOUR YEARS OF CONFLICT
At 5am on 11 November 1918 in a railway carriage in France, representatives of France, Britain and Germany all signed a document that would put an end to four years of conflict. Six hours later – at 11am – those signatures would bring into effect the Armistice that ended WWI.
Across the world, people rejoiced and celebrated the news, including in Australia. Despite the late hour of the day, school, fire station, and church bells around the country rang, waking hundreds of people to share the news that war was over.
Stone of Remembrance at the Australian War Memorial, 1949 | Image - Australian War Memorial
Alongside the excitement, there was also a notable sense of loss and grief. More than 60,000 Australian soldiers had made the ultimate sacrifice, more than 150,000 had been wounded or taken prisoner and some 23,000 soldiers were missing. Very few Australian families did not have some link to the war effort.
It would take another six months of negotiations before the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919 and for exhausted troops to return home to their loved ones. For many, despite returning home, they never truly left the horror of the battlefields behind.
A MOMENT OF SILENCE SPARKS TRADITION
On the first anniversary of the Armistice (11 November was known as Armistice Day until after WWII), King George V asked all the people of the British Empire to observe two minutes’ silence at 11am.
It’s a tradition still honoured today during Remembrance Day services as we remember all who have served in the Australian Defence Force, in WWI and in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations since.
Remembrance Day Service at Kings Park in Perth, WA | Image - Department of Defence
The Remembrance Day minute of silence was formalised in Australia in 1997 by Governor-General Sir William Deane, who issued a proclamation declaring 11 November to be Remembrance Day and urging all Australians to observe one minute of silence at 11am on 11 November each year.
Today, we encourage all Australians to attend a service and honour those who have served. If you can’t make it to a service, it’s easy to set a reminder in your calendar, switch your phone to ‘do not disturb’ and pause for one minute to remember. It’s a simple action that means so much.
OTHER REMEMBRANCE DAY TRADITIONS
The red poppy is equally as significant to Remembrance Day. Known as the ‘Flower of Remembrance’, red poppies were among the first to flower in the battlefields of northern France and Belgium after the conflict ended. The vivid red bloom was adopted in England in 1919 as an emblem to honour the dead and help the living, and Australia followed in 1921.
An Australian solider wears a poppy on Remembrance Day
Today, Remembrance Day poppies are worn – on the left lapel – in memory of those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice, and to recognise their acts of gallantry.
Other traditions commonly seen in Australia on 11 November include flying flags at half-mast from 10:30-11:03am, reciting poems such as the Ode of Remembrance or In Flanders Fields, and playing the Last Post.
REMEMBER TO COMMEMORATE
Hundreds of poignant services will take place at Sub Branches across the country this Remembrance Day – so find your nearest service and honour the veterans in your local community.
If you can’t attend a service, there are other ways to commemorate Remembrance Day. You can pause for a minute’s silence wherever you are or watch the service online. What matters most is that we Remember to Remember.
Crowds gather at an RSL Remembrance Day service | Image - Department of Defence
Remember those who gave their life in service of their country, those who served and came home injured or ill, and those who bravely serve today.
Find a local event near you, watch a live stream of the Remembrance Day ceremony or simply light a candle, recite the Ode and spend a minute in silent reflection.
Lest we forget.