One of the Queen’s most poignant annual duties comes in November on Remembrance Sunday when, on behalf of the nation and in remembrance of those who gave their lives in war, she lays a wreath of poppies at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
The annual ceremony was first performed in 1921 to honour the servicemen who died in the First World War and has its roots in the desire of George V that ‘at the hour when the Armistice came into force, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, there be for two minutes a complete suspension of all our normal activities’. On the stroke of eleven, the two minutes silence is heralded by a single shot from King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and ended with The Last Post, the buglers’ salute to the fallen warrior. After the laying of wreaths and a service conducted by the Bishop of London, the traditional march past and parade to Parliament Square is led off.
The laying of a poppy wreath and the wearing of a red poppy is perhaps the tradition most famously associated with Remembrance Day.
It is a tradition followed in almost every parish of the nation and one shared by Allied nations worldwide where the same day is known as Armistice Day, Memorial Day or Veterans Day. The bright red flower has played a part in the memorial ceremony from the beginning for it too harks back to World War I when thousands of poppies covered the battlefields of Flanders and Picardy.
Deeply moved by the poem written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces in Ypres, the writer Moina Michael, then serving with the American YMCA, wore a poppy for remembrance and with Madame Guérin, the French YMCA secretary, proposed the making and sale of artificial poppies to help widows and orphans as well as needy veterans and their families. And so began the Poppy Day tradition now such an important part of the work of the Royal British Legion.
In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ fields.
The Flanders Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), also known as the Field Poppy or Corn Poppy, flourishes in newly cultivated fields since its seeds lay dormant for years until the soil is turned.
During World War I, red corn poppies bloomed in fields that had been disturbed by battle, and the flower has become an emotive symbol of that war.
About the coin
To reflect the rich and vivid beauty of the poppy, the coin has been colour printed using trichromatic techniques. This layers the different shades and colours onto the coin, helping to capture the poppy’s dramatic colouring.
"The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It’s such a powerful moment. A moment the world remembers the bravery and the sacrifice. I wanted the coin to pinpoint that moment."
Emma Noble – Engraver at The Royal Mint