Big Ben’s hands struck 11, its chimes cutting through the dead silent air of Westminster. It’s not uncommon to see thousands of people surrounding this London landmark, but very much so to witness the entire square fall silent in unison for 2 minutes.
This morning, I stood amidst the sea of people, near to the foot of Big Ben, unaware of the fact that just 300 meters away, the Queen herself, was leading the procession of people, laying down a wreath to commemorate Remembrance Day 2012.
Remembrance or Armistice Day (Nov 11th) has been celebrated across many parts of the world since the end of the First World War and in the UK, serves as a day to commemorate servicemen and women killed in war since 1914.
The invasion of the poppies
It all started in mid-October, when I began to notice little red flowers, like the one above, popping up everywhere across London. They came in different forms and sizes: most of time, in paper, and clipped on people’s vests; other times, plastered on the last car of the tube, on a flag in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and virtually on every single major public figure and reporter in the news.
These flowers, I would come to learn, are known as Remembrance Poppies. Americans first used the symbol in 1920 to commemorate their fallen soldiers during World War I.
While I have never heard of or seen the poppies used in the States, by sheer observance here in London, the flowers are significantly more popular in the UK (and according to Google, also Canada).
Poppy Appeal – Poppy Fascism?
The poppies owe their popularity perhaps to the Royal British Legion, who sell the paper flowers each year in a campaign to support those who have served the British Armed Forces and their families – known as the Poppy Appeal.
In 2011, a popular news presenter by the name of Jon Snow coined the term “poppy fascism” – sparking a debate about how the poppy appeal had become a social judgment call. News presenters like Mr. Snow, particularly on BBC, are all encouraged to wear poppies running up to the Remembrance Day, and people raised speculations of how the presence or lack of a poppy measured a politician’s or a person’s level of patriotism.
Poppies were also encouraged in workplaces – to which Snow and other critics say represents almost an enforcement of a feeling that should be voluntary, hence the term “poppy fascism”.
Poppy State of Mind
And yet, the thing about critics like this, in my opinion, is that once they’re thrown into the air, they become this unnecessarily cynical angle to a tradition that is supposedly very simple and not to mention, for a good cause.
I experienced a good hour of squeezing my way through the hundreds and perhaps, beyond my vision, thousands of people in London, who headed out to Westminster, on a Sunday morning, proudly sporting their poppies, and red-toned accessories,their expressions sombre, and their eyes gazing distantly during the 2 minutes of silence.
For me, there’s no better proof of how much the Remembrance Day means to people here and how it has brought them together.
It was so crowded and most of those around were taller than me, so no good pictures of the parade of uniform servicemen and women, and of course, nowhere near to the Queen, but you can read and watch more HERE.