On this day—four or five years ago—I found myself in a London Waitrose supermarket, late in the morning. At 11 o’clock, precisely, a very serious-sounding manager came over the loudspeaker, asking us shoppers to observe two minutes of silence. It was my first acquaintance with the rituals of Armistice Day—which commemorates the 1918 end of World War I hostilities along France’s Western Front. Although scattered skirmishes subsequently flared-up in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, Armistice Day signaled (for the most part) the end of the four year long World War I, a war which claimed 20 million lives. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Germany signed the Armistice agreement with the Allied victors which ended “The War to End All Wars.”
The two minute silence was first observed in South Africa: the first minute was to honor the war dead, the second minute to pray for those left behind (widows and children). In England, during the weeks leading to Armistice Day, people still wear paper or plastic poppies in their lapels—a reminder of the poppy-stained fields of France and Belgium. And in some countries, the name of the memorial was changed after WWII, in order to include those who have died in all wars—for example, Remembrance Day or Veterans Day (in the United States). In my humble opinion, we should both remember those who have died (on Armistice Day) and we should remember those who served and survived (on a separate Veterans’ Day—perhaps 12 November).
The English Arts & Crafts mirror, pictured above, was made just before the horrors of the first “modern war.” Nevertheless, its use of poppies broadens the object’s use, reminding us to “never forget.”