This Sunday in South Elmsall, as in most villages, towns and cities in the UK and Northern Ireland, people will gather round a war memorial to remember those British and Commonwealth civilian and military men and women who died in the two World Wars and in other conflicts since 1945. I will be proud to attend with local families and with students from Minsthorpe to commemorate the sacrifice that so many people have made to ensure the continuation of our way of life.
Remembrance Sunday is traditionally held on the second Sunday in November, which is the Sunday nearest to the Armistice Day on November 11th, the anniversary of the end of hostilities in the First World War at 11 a.m. in 1918.
After war broke out in 1914, much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. Previously beautiful countryside was blasted, bombed and fought over, again and again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud, bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow. Bright red Flanders poppies, however, were delicate but resilient flowers and grew in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of this chaos and destruction. In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies to write a now famous poem called In Flanders Fields:
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.
The poppy was a symbol of Remembrance then and remains so today, but now it offers a renewed hope for a brighter, peaceful future. Remembrance in the UK today is very different to that of 100 years ago. People are able to take part in a wide variety of Remembrance events, whatever their political beliefs or religious faiths. This also includes people of no faith at all. All are able to remember individuals – family, friends and loved ones – in their own way and to feel part of our shared Remembrance heritage.