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UK Mike (miner2049er)

The Bi-Weekly British Backtrack – Lest We Forget

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How ironic that the Bi-Weekly British Backtrack falls on this day of all days, a day for us to be British and a day for us to look back.

There are ways to connect this to gaming, which is ostensibly what this blog is about, but it’s also about being British and all that being British entails, and I don’t just mean bad teeth and drinking tea at 3pm. I mean British tradition, British quirks and some general wackiness along the way, but this time around it is of course 11/11/11, or as the Americans put it, 11/11/11.

Remembrance Day / Armistice Day / Poppy Day is when we remember the soldiers who have died in the line of duty and is observed across the Commonwealth on November 11th, the official end of World War I in 1918, and as you know the hostilities formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" with Germany signing the Armistice.

King George V dedicated the day as a day of remembrance to honour those killed in World War I, though now of course that has been expanded to include other battles and wars, with perhaps the most poignant in recent years being the First World War because we still had surviving veterans of course. Each year the BBC broadcast the Remembrance Sunday ceremony from London which is attended by those surviving veterans, who unfortunately numbered fewer and fewer with each passing year, until of course the inevitable happened when the world's last known combat veteran of World War I, Claude Choules, died in Australia aged 110.

Choules was known by his comrades as Chuckles, and the British-born veteran was a demolition officer who joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15 having lied about his age after he was told he was too young to serve. Ironically Choules later became a pacifist who disagreed with celebrating Australia's Anzac Day, and refused to march in parades.

As the years continue to pass, the same will become true of World War 2 veterans who attend ceremonies each year.

The adopted symbol of the day is of course the red poppy that people wear which signifies appropriately the blood spilled on the battlefields of France, though it actually derives from the poem "In Flanders Fields" a renowned poem written during the war in the style of a French rondeau by a Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.

McCrae’s inspiration for the poem was witnessing the death of his friend, 22 year old Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, which inspired him to write the poem the very next day, and thus the poppy, which grows in abundance in the fields and cemeteries of Flanders, became the universal symbol of Armistice Day.

This was captured quite brilliantly in the final episode of Black Adder Goes Forth which ended in a scene showing the soldiers going “Over The Top” and fading into a shot of the poppy fields. A memorable and melancholy moment that stands out among the many side splitting moments from the series.

In addition to the wearing of poppies, the occasion is marked either by a one or two minute silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and a Service of Remembrance will often include the playing of the "Last Post", itself a most haunting tune, then a minute’s silence followed by "The Rouse".

As members of the Cub Scout movement we would take part in “Walking Day” which involved marching behind the flag of our Scout Group and gathering around the cenotaph in the centre of town where wreaths would be laid. Other organisations would also take part in the same march, such as the Royal British Legion, the armed forces, the local council, army cadets, Guides, Boys' Brigade, St John Ambulance and the Salvation Army. We would then march to a nearby field and sing various songs and listen to prayers before going home for a big Sunday Dinner, which as you might have guessed, suggests that this would be done on a Sunday rather than actually on the 11th which would usually be a school day. Remembrance Sunday is always the second Sunday in November but a silence is always observed on the 11th no matter what day it falls on, and as a school we would also commemorate the occasion with a service in the church.

So wherever you observed your silence, and I trust that you did, why not do it again on Sunday and try to catch a recital of “In Flanders Fields” while you’re at it?

In Flanders Fields
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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