Many strands contributed to the form that Armistice and later Remembrance Day took.
Long before the end of the war was in sight, let alone plans for a victory parade, thinking and planning was already underway about how to mark its ending and what to do with the ever growing number of dead. In a sense the shape of post war commemorations was already taking place just a few months after the war’s beginning. Post war commemorations drew on the practices that had become widespread during the war itself - some for propaganda purposes, some as an element of wartime pastoral and evangelising work by, in particular, the Church of England and the Catholic Church.
In an age without radio, much less television, public meetings and mass open air rallies of various kinds provided important sources of information about what was happening in the world beyond people's immediate locality. Churches played a prominent role during the war in this and in the commemoration of the dead. The latter was often combined with prayers for the safety of the living and the promotion of patriotic sentiments.
The first ‘Remembrance Day’ took place on the 4th August 1915, the anniversary of Britain’s entry into the war. Remembrance Days were large patriotic rallies designed to inspire more people to join the army; they were suspended after 11 November 1919. At the first anniversary the crowd declared its ‘inflexible determination to continue to a victorious end‘; by 1918 the tone had changed to ‘silently payng tribute to the Empire’s sons who have fallen …on the scattered battlefields of the world war.‘ | Rolls of Honour >
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"The Legion is committed to ensuring that the ‘Torch of Remembrance’ is passed on to today’s school children. Our children are the world’s future - it is important that they understand the lessons of history so that the same mistakes may never be repeated." BL 2005
What exactly does all this mean? What is the 'Torch of Remembrance' and why should we care about it? What are the 'lessons of history' and which lessons should we 'understand'? What mistakes should not be repeated? Behind this bland statement lie the politics of war.
It gradually became obvious to some doctors that that some men at the front were suffering from non-physical injuries from what became know as shell-shock.
Some doctors argued that the only cure for shell-shock was a complete rest away from the fighting. Officer were likely to be sent back home to recuperate but the army was less sympathetic to ordinary soldiers with shell-shock. Some senior officers took the view that these men were cowards who were trying to get out of fighting.
Between 1914 and 1918 the British Army identified 80,000 men (2% of those who saw active service) as suffering from shell-shock. many more soldiers with these symptoms were classified as 'malingerers' and sent back to the front-line. Some these committed suicide; some broke down under the pressure and refused to obey the orders, some deserted. Sometimes soldiers who disobeyed orders were shot on the spot, some were court-martialled. 304 British soldiers were executed.