Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The English Excel at Remembrance

The Queen is on TV at Westminster Abbey at the moment to commemorate Armistice Day, which honors the end of World War I.  Today is also Veteran's Day in the States.  It doesn't quite have the pomp, but it is a national holiday, as my dad has the day off work.  England observes two minutes of silence at 11 a.m.... which I did.  Now I can tell you about the poppies, which came to symbolize the dead of World War I thanks to the poem, "In Flanders Fields."

People have been wearing little red, paper poppies since the middle of October, and most public places have a veteran selling them for the Royal British Legion, which is a charity that supports service personnel.  Chumley has purchased a number that I've found lying around the house.  Quite a few people out and about have been wearing them.  In fact, it would be a high crime to be seen without one if you happen to be a TV presenter.

Remembrance in general gets a bit more attention in Britain than in the U.S., which I find surprisingly refreshing.  It's made news that the last three WWI veterans living in the UK have passed away, at the ages of 108, 111, and 113.  The only British veteran left is 108 and living in Australia.  BBC is full of documentaries and programs that have a war theme.  An especially interesting one on at the moment is "Coal House at War", which takes three Welsh families and imposes the living conditions of 1944 England.  The children were carrying around little wooden boxes that I naively thought were lunch boxes, but instead they were gas masks.  A lady got fined 15 shillings for not adhering to the blackout laws.  Ouch.

I enjoy these reality shows instead of the brain rot-inducing likes of "Big Brother" and its progeny.  One of my all-time favorites was "Regency House Party," a Channel 4 series that aired on U.S. PBS in 2004.  It took eligible and prosperous young men, young women of means and without means, and assigned them a chaperone.  They also cast the roles of servants and head butler with modern people. The goal was for the chaperones to make a suitable match before a summer-long house party was over, but while adhering to the Regency rules of dating.  Call me nerdy, but I was riveted.  I even went home early from a date so I wouldn't miss an episode.  How can you go wrong with epidose synopses like these?  As the end of the party approaches old quarrels rise to surface and the chaperones fall out in spectacular style by throwing the fine china at each other.  My favorite part was when the estate hired a professional hermit to live in a hut on the property and scare people.  Genius.

In any event, I will be a bit sad to see the poppies put away, especially because they are lovely to see growing wild in the fields.  It's also nice to see such a universal respect for a worthy cause.


ChaChaneen said...

Very interesting, I didn't quite understand the equivalent for Veteran Day there but... now I do! I lurve those shows as well! I haven't seen the one you spoke of but I did see one here where they had to live as American Pioneers and it was so much fun. We always say it would be fun to live like that for a day but to watch them do it for weeks was very fun!! I realized I wasn't pioneer woman. ha ha

Claire said...

Based on being here and imput from Chumley, I think that Armistice Day and American Memorial Day are more related. They also have an observed silence on the Sunday before, called Remembrance Sunday. Just a bigger deal overall, I think - I was watching the news later that day, and even people in the street stopped where they were and observed the silence. It's very interesting.

I saw Pioneer House as well. There was an awesome one that recreated "Upstairs, Downstairs" called "Manor House." That had affairs going on between footmen and scullery maids - the butler found them in bed together. Shocking!

Thanks for your comments - I enjoy them!

and another thing said...

It was, I think, an American that first used the red poppy as a symbol of Remembrance. The French adopted a blue cornflower, which matched their WW1 uniforms and also grew in the fields the first year after the war ended. I am not sure how common the French "poppy" is these days. I have been to France three times around Armistice Day and never seen them. Some people are said to wear a white poppy as a pacifist emblem but i have never seen one of them either.