Commemoration And Poppies: Cambridge, and Other American Battle Monuments Commission Cemeteries’ Mission in Anniversary Years

Nina M. Ray, Andy T. Mink


Around the beginning of August 2014, the grassy moat around the Tower of London became
a field of red ceramic poppies to commemorate the centenary of World War I. As
Remembrance Day (Veterans Day, in the United States) on November 11 approached,
millions travelled from all over the London area, the country, and indeed the world, to view
'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.' This display became so popular that the Mayor of
London, as well as the leaders of the three major political parties and many average citizens,
petitioned for the display to remain in place even after Remembrance Day. Meanwhile,
across the Atlantic, in the nation where its native son John McCrea, the surgeon from Toronto
who wrote the famous World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,”
immediately after the October 22, 2014 terrorist attack in Ottawa on Parliament, there was a
push for the Royal Canadian Legion to start selling poppies earlier than normal for November
11 Remembrance Day (Yuen, 2014). While Remembrance Day is commemorated every
year, 2014 took on heightened importance as the year was the 100th anniversary of the
beginning of World War One. Clarke and Eastgate (2011) found in their research that the
“sense of anniversary” (40) added “to the cultural value” of visits to commemorative sites.
The recent list of these anniversaries and commemorations is lengthy. In June 2014, the 70th
anniversary of D-Day was celebrated. More recently, related Victory in Europe and “VJ”
days were commemorated. Eight hundred years ago, the foundation of English law, the
Magana Carta was signed. In 2015, the Queen visited the Runnymede site and major exhibits
were on display around Britain. In addition, Belgium saw huge numbers of tourists for the
June 2015 reenactment and associated ceremonies on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of
Waterloo. The Belgian city of Ieper (Ypres) sees an important contribution to its economy
based on the daily “last post” ceremony at the Menin Gate which has seen even more
attendees at the ceremony during the centenary. Visitors are often surprised at how many
actually go to attend. Comments such as, “I was surprised by the number of people at the
memorial. I arrived half an hour before the Last Call and there was a very large crowd
already gathered at the memorial,” often appear on TripAdvisor in relationship to the Last
Post ceremony.

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