Today is the 100th anniversary of the commemoration of Armistice Day, originally set to recall the end of hostilities of First World War on 11 November 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”, in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. (“At the 11th hour” refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 am.) The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.
The initial Armistice Day was observed at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a “Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic” during the evening hours of 10 November 1919. The first official Armistice Day was subsequently held on the grounds of Buckingham Palace the following morning. In the United States, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation on November 11, 1919. The date was made an official federal holiday in 1938 known as Armistice Day. During the Second World War, many countries changed the name of the holiday. Member states of the Commonwealth of Nations adopted Remembrance Day, while the U.S. chose Veterans Day, a name which came into effect in 1954 and meant to celebrate all veterans, not just those who died in World War I.
The stamp pictured today is the only one that I know of to have been released marking the centennial of the holiday itself. Many nations commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Armistice last year. The island of Alderney, part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, issued the single miniature sheet today, 11 November 2019. Printed on PVA gummed paper by Cartor Security Printing using offset lithography, the £2 poppy-shaped stamp has laser die-cut perforations. Designed by The Printing Shed, the sheets background illustrates letters and poems from soldiers sent from the trenches during World War I.
The Remembrance Poppy pictured on the Alderney miniature sheet is an artificial flower that has been used since 1921 to commemorate military personnel who have died during war. It represents a common or field poppy, Papaver rhoeas. The creation of the remembrance poppy was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” written during World War 1, and promoted by Moina Michael and the “Originator of the Poppy Day”, Madame Guérin. Prior to this, Madame Guérin had been raising funds for French and American war charities throughout World War I for widows, orphans, veterans, the Red Cross, charity organization Food for France, U.S. Liberty bonds and other causes.
After the Armistice that ended World War I, the French government formed the charity La Ligue des Enfants de France et d’Amérique with the poppy as its emblem. Madame Guérin created the American branch, called the American and French Children’s League. Many organizations adopted the poppy as their memorial flower, after World War I ended. In 1919, Madame Guérin began holding Poppy Days, under the auspices of her charity.
Today, they are mostly used in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to commemorate servicemen and women killed in all conflicts. Small remembrance poppies are often worn on clothing leading up to Remembrance Day and poppy wreaths are often laid at war memorials. In Australia and New Zealand, they are also worn on Anzac Day.
The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal has caused some controversy, with some — including British Army veterans — arguing that the symbol is used excessively, is used to marshal support behind British military campaigns and that public figures are pressured to wear poppies.
The opening lines of “In Flanders Fields” refer to many poppies growing among the graves of war victims in a region of Belgium. The poem is written from the point of view of the dead soldiers and, in the last verse, the soldiers call on the living to continue the conflict. The poem was written by Canadian physician, John McCrae, on 3 May 1915 after witnessing the death of his friend, a fellow soldier, the day before. The poem was first published on 8 December 1915 in the London-based magazine Punch.
In 1918, Moina Michael, who had taken leave from her professorship at the University of Georgia to be a volunteer worker for the American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organization, was inspired by the poem and published a poem of her own called “We Shall Keep the Faith”. In tribute to McCrae’s poem, she vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who fought and helped in the war. At a November 1918 YMCA Overseas War Secretaries’ conference, she appeared with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed 25 more to those attending. She then campaigned to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance.
At its conference in 1920, the National American Legion adopted it as their official symbol of remembrance. Frenchwoman Madame Anna E. Guérin was invited to address American Legion delegates at their 1920 Cleveland Convention, about her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea after which, they too adopted the poppy as their memorial flower and committed to support Madame Guérin in her future U.S. Poppy Days. It was there that the American Legion christened her “The Poppy Lady from France”. In the United States, she organized the first nationwide Poppy Day, held during the week before Memorial Day in May 1921, using silk poppies made by the widows and children of the devastated regions of France.
When the American Legion reneged on the poppy, in favor of the daisy, the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ veterans supported Madame Guérin instead. Using French-made poppies purchased through Madame Guérin, it was the V.F.W. that was responsible for organizing the first veterans’ Poppy Day Drive in the U.S., for the 1922 Memorial Day. In 1924, the Veterans of Foreign Wars patented the Buddy Poppy.
Madame Guérin’s ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea was also adopted by military veterans’ groups in parts of the British Empire. After the 1921 Memorial Day in the U.S., Madame Guérin travelled to Canada. After she addressed the Great War Veteran Association veterans on 4 July, they adopted the poppy emblem and her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea too. They were the first veterans of the British Empire (now British Commonwealth) to do so.
Madame Guérin sent her representative Colonel Moffat (ex-American Red Cross) to Australia and New Zealand (and probably South Africa) afterwards. Then, Madame Guérin travelled to Great Britain, where she informed Field Marshal Douglas Haig and the Royal British Legion about her “idea”. Because it was a poor organization, Madame Guérin paid for the British remembrance poppies herself and the British Legion reimbursed her, after the first British Remembrance Day Poppy Day on 11 November 1921.
James Fox notes that all of the countries who adopted the remembrance poppy were the “victors” of World War I. Today, remembrance poppies are mostly used in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — countries which are part of the British Commonwealth — to commemorate their servicemen and women killed in all conflicts. They are used to a lesser extent in the United States. Today, the American Legion Auxiliary distributes crepe-paper poppies in exchange for donations around Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Since 2014, Ukrainians have worn the poppy as a symbol of the Victory over Nazism and commemoration of the victims of World War II. It has largely replaced the Ribbon of Saint George, which became associated with pro-Russian separatists and Russian military aggression. A poppy logo was designed by Serhiy Mishakin and contains the text: “1939-1945 Never Again”.
For more about the commemoration of Armistice Day, Remembrance Day and Veterans Day, please see my article on Philatelic Pursuits.