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Public set to honour Armistice Day

Commemorative poppy wreaths to mark the First World War
Commemorative poppy wreaths to mark the First World War

Across the United Kingdom, people will gather tomorrow to pay tribute to the millions of British servicemen who have died in conflict since the start of the First World War 100 years ago.

Since last year's Armistice Day, another seven members of the British armed forces have died in service - including five who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in April.

Richard Hughes, of the Western Front Association - which organises the Annual Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph, said this year's commemorations were not just about the end of the First World War.

He said, "We have got the modern version here with us stepping back from Afghanistan. That itself has tremendous resonance."

Armistice Day has been marked on the November 11 every year since 1919 - a year after the Allied forces signed an agreement with the Germans that would end the First World War.

Although at first former servicemen wanted to forget the horrifying experiences of war, a decade later remembrance became more popular.

Stephen Clarke, head of remembrance for the British Legion, said, "By the late 1920s, veterans wanted to renew the special bonds of comradeship."

After the Second World War, commemorations were adapted to honour the fallen of both conflicts, and Remembrance Sunday was established to replace Armistice Day.

In the 1980s, as the number of surviving First World War veterans quickly fell, some commentators believed that remembrance would come to fade away.

From 1995, the British Legion campaigned successfully to restore the two-minute silence to the 11th of November as well as Remembrance Sunday, and recent years have seen a resurgence in support for commemoration events.

Mr Hughes said a growing interest in family history and the losses of more recent wars have made remembrance more significant, particularly to current servicemen.

He said, "The notion of remembrance has become important again. It has stopped being obscure old history.

"To be part of that continuing tradition of remembrance gives soldiers a great comfort and it gives their families great comfort."

This year's centenary of the beginning of the First World War has opened another generation's eyes to the magnitude of the conflict.

Mr Hughes said, "The biggest single change for society in this country was the First World War. It had a far more profound effect on the country than the Second World War.

"It had on the country a sense of national loss that the Second World War did not even come close to approaching."

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has seen its web traffic more than double since last year, with increasing numbers of people eager to trace their family history.

Peter Francis, of the CWGC, said, "While every Remembrance Day is important, this first Remembrance Day of the Centenary of the First World War is particularly poignant.

"Sadly, the veterans of the Great War are no longer with us and our challenge is to make the war, and remembrance of it, relevant to new generations."

This year's Poppy Appeal has been more successful than ever. The British Legion is on target to sell more than 45 million poppies by the end of Armistice Day - one million more than last year.

Mr Clarke said, "This year it feels like there are more poppies out in the streets and a lot of different styles of poppy, because remembrance is very personal.

"In the year of the centenary of the start of the First World War, it is going to be very poignant tomorrow at 11 o'clock when we stop to reflect on the losses for the British armed forces."

As well as a number of local events across the county, the British Legion will be hosting a 'Silence in the Square' event in Trafalgar Square tomorrow.

The Western Front Association will host their Annual Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph on Whitehall.


From Belfast Telegraph