Veterans Day in the United Kingdom is called Remembrance Sunday, and recalls Sunday 11 November, 1918 when World War I officially came to an end. Called the “war to end all wars,” it was not; even as the November 11 memorial services were held, unconfirmed reports came in that Britain had lost its 44th soldier in Afghanistan this year.
In the United Kingdom, Veterans Day is not celebrated, nor is it an excuse for retail sales; it is observed, solemnly and respectfully. The Royal British Legion sells poppies in the streets and online; citizens wear them on their lapels as a way to show support. The money goes towards helping wounded soldiers rehabilitate into civilian life and helping military families.
Remembrance Day observances typically take place at cenotaphs and monuments, many of which are historic buildings in their own right—and all of which have historic significance. The village war memorial is more often than not a listed building; in some towns, such as Beauly, Scotland, memorials to the Boer War remain. Here are three of the most famous, and the stories behind them.
The Cenotaph is in Whitehall, London. It started off as a temporary memorial for the July, 1919 victory parade, following the signing of the Versailles Treaty in June. By popular demand, Sir Edwin Lutyens created a permanent monument using Portland stone from Portland Island, Dorset.
The official unveiling was by King George V on 11 November, 1920; on the same day, a procession to lay the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey took place. On Sunday 10 November 1946, King George VI unveiled the Cenotaph again, which now included lost soldiers from World War II. The Cenotaph became a grade I listed building in 1970.
The National Memorial Arboretum
The National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire is the most recent. It is a site where more than 150 separate monuments have been installed or relocated, the main one being the Armed Forces Memorial. On this monument, the names of more than 16,000 service personnel who have died since 1948 are inscribed.
Taking a leaf from Stonehenge’s book, the memorial is so designed that at 11 o’clock on November 11, a shaft of sunlight falls on a bronze wreath on its central stone. Surrounding forest provides a natural setting for remembering the past.
Not all the monuments here are for the military. For example, there is a memorial garden for stillborn and newborn deaths, another for the RNLI lifeboat service, and yet another to remember deserters who, later science has proven, left not through cowardice but through reaction to traumatic stress–PTSD.
While the National Arboretum was originally conceived in 1988, the arboretum was not dedicated until 2001 and is a work in progress. The Royal British Legion manages the site.
The Commando Memorial
The Commando Memorial is a category A listed structure near Glencoe, in the Highlands of Scotland. A famous landmark in the vicinity of Spean Bridge, its remote location has a backdrop of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, and Aonaoch Mor, one of its top 8.
The location highlights the toughness of the Commandos it represents and has a view of the former training grounds, established in 1942. The cast bronze monument has a date of 1951 and was designed by Scott Sutherland. It was first listed in 1971, then upgraded to grade A in 1996. The Commando Memorial is the location for Remembrance Sunday observances every year.
Sources: The Guardian; National Memorial Arboretum; National Heritage List;
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