Remembrance Day in Australia is an occasion to commemorate and remember all Australians who have died as a result of war.
About Remembrance Day
When is Remembrance Day?
Remembrance Day falls on the 11th of November each year.
On the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, a minutes’ silence is observed and dedicated to those soldiers who died fighting to protect the nation.
In Australia and other allied countries, including New Zealand, Canada and the United States, 11 November became known as Armistice Day – a day to remember those who died in World War One. The day continues to be commemorated in allied countries.
After World War Two, the Australian Government agreed to the United Kingdom’s proposal that Armistice Day be renamed Remembrance Day to commemorate those who were killed in both World Wars. Today the loss of Australian lives from all wars and conflicts is commemorated on Remembrance Day.
What is the origin of Remembrance Day?
11 November is universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the First World War. This conflict had mobilised over 70 million people and left between nine and 13 million dead and as many as one third of these with no grave. The allied nations chose this day and time for the commemoration of their war dead.
At 11 am on 11 November 1918, the guns on the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare. The allied armies had driven the German invaders back, having inflicted heavy defeats upon them over the preceding four months.
In November, the Germans called for an armistice (suspension of fighting) in order to secure a peace settlement. They accepted the allied terms of unconditional surrender. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month attained a special significance in the post-war years and became universally associated with the remembrance of those who had died in the war.
What is the significance of the period of Silence?
On the first anniversary of the armistice in 1919, two minutes’ silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony at the new cenotaph in London.
Australian journalist Edward Honey proposed the silence. At about the same time, a South African statesman made a similar proposal to the British Cabinet, which endorsed it.
King George V personally requested all the people of the British Empire suspend normal activities for two minutes on the hour of the Armistice ‘which stayed the worldwide carnage of the four preceding years and marked the victory of Right and Freedom’. The two minutes’ silence was popularly adopted, and it became a central feature of commemorations of Armistice Day.
The Unknown Soldier
On the second anniversary of the Armistice on 11 November 1920, the commemoration was given added significance when it became a funeral, with the return of the remains of an unknown soldier from the battlefields of the Western Front.
Unknown soldiers were interred with full military honours in Westminster Abbey in London and at the Arc de Triumph in Paris. The entombment in London attracted over one million people within a week to pay their respects at the unknown soldier’s tomb. Most other allied nations adopted the tradition of entombing unknown soldiers over the following decade.
In Australia on the 75th anniversary of the armistice in 1993, Remembrance Day ceremonies again became the focus of national attention. The remains of an unknown Australian soldier, exhumed from a First World War military cemetery in France, were ceremonially entombed in the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory. Remembrance Day ceremonies were conducted simultaneously in towns and cities all over the country, culminating at the moment of burial at 11.00am and coinciding with the traditional two minutes’ silence.
Why is this day special to Australians?
In 1997, Governor-General Sir William Deane issued a proclamation formally declaring 11 November to be Remembrance Day, urging all Australians to observe one minute silence at 11.00am on 11 November each year, to remember those who died or suffered for Australia’s cause in all wars and armed conflicts.
This year on Sunday 11 November at 11.00am, we will commemorate the 100th year anniversary since the guns on the Western Front fell silent and reflect on the significance of that event. We also pause to remember all of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
We will remember them. Lest we forget.