Tuesday, 17 November 2015

What is Remembrance Day?

Originally called Armistice Day, the date of November 11 is now known as Remembrance Day, a day when we stop at 11am and observe a minutes’ silence, to remember those who gave their lives in the service of Australia.

A procession in Flinders Street East, Townsville, to commemorate Armistice Day, November 1918.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries. 
The signing of the armistice between Germany and the Allies on November 11, 1918, brought the First World War (then known as the Great War) to an end. In 1919, on the first anniversary of the armistice, at the request of King George V, two minutes’ silence was observed for the first time, at 11am. This was the hour that hostilities had ceased the previous year.

In the decade that followed the Great War Australians dutifully observed two minutes’ silence on Armistice Day. Whilst on the surface it was a day to remember those who had been lost, the commemoration of Armistice Day also carried the hope that the conflict had been a “war to end all war”.
Procession in Flinders Street, Townsville, to commemorate the Armistice that ended World War I,  November 1918.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
In 1939 Australia was at war again, and commemorating Armistice Day while the Second World War raged on, seemed incongruous to many people, marking as it did the cessation of fighting in one war, even though we were once again embroiled in another. So the RSL began calling for the day to be more appropriately named Remembrance Day.

After the end of the Second World War, Armistice Day was changed to Remembrance Sunday, at the behest of the British monarch, King George V. In 1946, newspapers throughout Australia reported that:

“In accordance with the wishes of his Majesty the King, Armistice Day will in future be observed on the Sunday nearest November 11. This day will be known as Remembrance Sunday.”

Not everyone was pleased with the change, which first took effect in November 1947. An editorial in the Townsville Daily Bulletin in November 1948 noted the “pathetic passing of a once-honoured day”, remarking that the idea behind the Armistice Day anniversary was “both dramatic and beautiful” and that the people who remembered the first Armistice Day would “never forget it”.

“This year's Armistice, or Remembrance Day, was celebrated last Sunday, and so little of its former glory remains that practically no notice was taken of its observance throughout Australia,” the Bulletin wrote.

The change to Remembrance Sunday seems to have led to some confusion, and according to the Bulletin:

“Although church congregations in Townsville were larger for the Remembrance Day services on Sunday, only a small official body was in attendance at the Cenotaph at 12 noon for the laying of wreaths.”

In Brisbane, where only 175 people gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance in Anzac Square, the State President of the RSL, Mr R.D. Huish, felt that the crowd was small because people were still confused over the replacing of Armistice Day with Remembrance Sunday.

In 1949, the RSL sought to have the commemoration reverted to November 11 each year. Mr Huish said that the league believed the change had “brought about a loss of significance to the Armistice commemoration.”

By November 11, 1950, the Federal Government had bowed to pressure from nearly all the State Governments, the RSL and Church authorities, to revert to November 11 as the day of commemoration, which has since that date been referred to as Remembrance Day.

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