Today we gather with the rest of the world to honour all those who have served and continue to serve our country in war. We stand together, united, to pay our respects to all those who were killed or who have suffered in conflict.
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Remembrance Day, is the anniversary of the Armistice, signed early on the 11th of November 1918 and which came into effect at 11 am that day, ending World War 1. This day now serves as a Memorial Day for countries all around the world.
All around the world, this day is celebrated by wearing a red poppy, the hardy, attractive flower that grows so abundantly across the fields of France where so many battles in both World Wars have occurred.
This came about because of a poem, written by a Canadian soldier, physician and poet Lt Col John McCrae
McCrae fought in the Second Battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium, where the German army launched one of the first chemical attacks in the history of war. They attacked French positions north of the Canadians with chlorine gas on April 22, 1915 but were unable to break through the Canadian line, which held for over two weeks. In a letter written to his mother, McCrae described the battle as a “nightmare”:
For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds…. And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.
Alexis Helmer, a close friend of McCrae’s was killed during the battle on May 2. McCrae performed the burial service himself, at which time he noted how poppies quickly grew around the graves of those who died at Ypres. The next day, he composed the poem while sitting in the back of an ambulance at an Advanced Dressing Station outside Ypres.
Cyril Allinson, a sergeant major in McCrae’s unit, watched McCrae as he worked on the poem, noting that McCrae’s eyes periodically returned to Helmer’s grave as he wrote. When handed the notepad, Allinson read the poem and was so moved he immediately committed it to memory and described it as being “almost an exact description of the scene in front of us both”.
This is that Poem:
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
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 you break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The poem became world famous and the red poppy became a symbol of life sacrificed in war.
Today, conflicts still rage in many parts of the world and it is good that we come together still on this day to recognise the service and express our gratitude for the service men and women, doctors, nurses and others who have given so much for us. Let us acknowledge the men and women of our Pilbara Regiment and the wider Australian Defence Force along with those of allied nations. We are safe in the knowledge that good people continue to protect our nation.
Together we have stood as a community in years gone by and again we stand here today. I am proud that we will continue to stand here, year after year, for generations to come to recognise the sacrifice of our fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters.
Lest we forget.