Here is my tribute on this significant day - a poem I wrote that was published in an Australian poetry book. Remembrance Day (and ANZAC Day) are the only two days of the year that brings me to instant tears at 11am when the last post is played and a minute silence follows. Although I have not lost anyone to war, it hits my heart so hard that it physically takes my breath away and I am unable to control the emotion that bubbles up and spills over.
An ANZAC is a soldier in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
As I sit here staring
At the poppy in my hands
A symbol of atrocities
Held on a far off land
One minute of silence
For all the blood that shed
One small minute of tribute
So many words left unsaid
We could not take for one moment
What you’ve endured from the start
But we can help you carry the burden
In our memories and our hearts
And for those that rest in peace now
I say a prayer for you
May God hold you in his hands
Where your spirit can be renewed
And for those that are left behind
And we see some of you each day
We do our jobs throughout your home
And in gratitude I now pray
That those that come across your path
And those that cater for your needs
May their hearts be open to your history
And all of your past deeds
For you have served this country
So we may look forward to tomorrow
And our hearts are filled with blessings
Reaped from those times of sorrow
I pray for your happiness
And all that you require
I pray for compassionate carers
Every minute, every hour
And as my heart struggles to forgive
Those with power commanding
I hear our Lord’s words loudly
“they knew not what they were doing”.
Why a red poppy? (information sourced from the Australian Army website)
Canadian Colonel John McCrae first described the Red Poppy, the Flanders’ poppy, as the flower of remembrance.
Whilst serving in the First World War, one death in particular affected the then Major McCrae. A young friend and former student, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, was killed on 2 May. He was buried in the cemetery outside McCrae's dressing station, and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.
McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. At the second battle of Ypres in 1915, when in charge of a small first-aid post, he wrote in pencil on a page from his despatch book, a poem that has come to be known as 'Flanders' Field' which described the poppies that marked the graves of soldiers killed fighting for their country.
What is the significance for Australians?
The Red Poppy has special significance for Australians.
Worn on Remembrance Day (11 November) each year, the red poppies were among the first to flower in the devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium in the First World War. In soldiers’ folklore, the vivid red of the poppy came from the blood of their comrades soaking the ground.
In England in 1919, the British Legion sought an emblem that would honour the dead and help the living. The Red Poppy was adopted as that emblem and since then has been accepted as the Emblem of Remembrance.
The League adopted the idea in 1921, announcing:
"The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia and other Returned Soldiers Organisations throughout the British Empire and Allied Countries have passed resolutions at their international conventions to recognise the Poppy of Flanders' Fields as the international memorial flower to be worn on the anniversary of Armistice Day.”
Australians wear a Red Poppy on Remembrance Day for three reasons. Firstly, in memory of the sacred dead who rest in Flanders’ Fields. Secondly, to keep alive the memories of the sacred cause for which they laid down their lives; and thirdly, as a bond of esteem and affection between the soldiers of all Allied nations and in respect for France, our common battleground.
Today, cloth poppies are sold on, or around, 11 November each year. They are an exact replica in size and colour of the poppies that bloom in Flanders’ Fields. The RSL sells millions of red cloth poppies with proceeds going towards raising funds for welfare work.
Why the Last Post? (information sourced from the Australian War Memorial Website)
In military tradition, the Last Post is the bugle call that signifies the end of the day's activities. It is also sounded at military funerals to indicate that the soldier has gone to his final rest and at commemorative services such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day.
The Last Post is one of a number of bugle calls in military tradition that mark the phases of the day. While Reveille signals the start of a soldier's day, the Last Post signals its end.
The call is believed to have originally been part of a more elaborate routine, known in the British Army as "tattoo", that began in the 17th century. In the evening, a duty officer had to do the rounds of his unit's position, checking that the sentry posts were manned and rounding up the off-duty soldiers and packing them off to their beds or billets. The officer would be accompanied by one or more musicians. The "first post" was sounded when he started his rounds and, as the party went from post to post, a drum was played. The drum beats told off-duty soldiers it was time to rest; if the soldiers were in a town, the beats told them it was time to leave the pubs. (The word "tattoo" comes from the Dutch for "turn off the taps" of beer kegs; Americans call this "taps" or "drum taps".) Another bugle call was sounded when the officer's party completed its rounds, reaching the "last post" – this signalled that the night sentries were alert at their posts and gave one last warning to the other soldiers.
The Last Post was eventually incorporated into funeral and memorial services as a final farewell, and symbolises the duty of the dead is over and they can rest in peace.