Tomorrow, November 11th marks 100 years of Armistice and Remembrance services in the UK.
And on Remembrance Sunday, as the Prince of Wales lays a wreath at the Cenotaph on the Queen’s behalf, a historian from London’s Imperial War Museum looked back on the first Armistice Day in 1919 as the moment people felt “compelled” to remember.
Laura Clouting, senior curator at the museum and author of A Century of Remembrance, said: “It was the sheer, unprecedented scale of death.”
The First World War had ended, but for three years families had been unable to bury their relatives at home. Bodies had not been sent home since 1915 and were instead buried where they fell.
With no means of holding individual funerals and express grief about the bloody conflict, the nation instead united in mourning for the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1919.
Minutes from a Cabinet meeting stated: “No more appropriate moment for a pause, as a tribute to the dead, could be found than the anniversary of the cessation of fighting on the Western Front, namely, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”
The remembrance also featured the newly erected Cenotaph in Whitehall, allowing the bereaved a focal point to project their emotions.
Thousands descended on central London. There were so many, in fact, that flowers had to be passed overhead to the front of the crowd in order for them to make the foot of the memorial.
Ms Clouting said: “By November, the focus became the war dead. I think it was motivated because people didn’t have a grave.
“People came from across the country to lay flowers. They had to get inventive and creative to find an outlet for grief.
“Still to this day, the casualties and deaths in the First World War have not been surpassed for Britain, even in the Second World War.
“Almost everybody knew someone who had died.”
By the next year, 1920, a tradition had taken hold – and survives to this day.