Remembrance Day: loss & sacrifice remembered, peace pursued & the lessons of history learnt

Poppies on a tree in Flanders fields
Poppies on a tree in Flanders fields

A few years ago around this time of year, I was lucky enough to attend the first International Conference on Cyberspace, hosted in London by the then UK Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon William Hague. I arrived in London, bleary-eyed and late for our first meeting. Once I got over just being excited my luggage had made it, it became immediately apparent London was awash with red poppies.

That symbol of armistice, with its roots In Flanders Field, was worn proudly by everyone from senior politicians and bureaucrats, through to business leaders and even the iconic London cab drivers. I certainly was not prepared with a poppy and it was very conspicuous in its absence from my obligatory navy suit. Wanting to assimilate and atone for my ignorance, I promptly bought the most expensive poppy I could find.

Phew! Back in the game.

The conference was pretty amazing. It brought together global leaders of government and business, as well as representatives from international organisations, academia and civil society to consider the future ‘rules of the road’ for cyberspace. It really did illustrate how much we all have invested in this infrastructure underpinning our future being safe, secure and open.

In the quieter times of the conference, it was hard not to contemplate Remembrance Day; its relevance in our globalised world and its place within Australia. One of the speakers at the conference was the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. Wikipedia (as it often is embarrassingly) was particularly helpful with my musings. It told me the tradition was inaugurated by King George V in 1919 one year after the armistice was reached and that it spread across Europe and the Commonwealth countries within three years. The tradition was promulgated by a network of people intent on the Western world not forgetting the atrocities of the so-called ‘Great War’.

Sitting in the middle of London, it was clear their mission succeeded.

In writing this article I revisited Wikipedia for a quick fact check. The entry describes how different countries now observe Remembrance Day. Each country – and there are more than you would expect – is slightly different. The UK, Barbados, St Lucia and South Africa commemorate with services on Remembrance Sunday. In Canada, Remembrance Day is a public holiday, enshrined in legislation by the Armistice Day Act. In some countries, the remit of Remembrance Day has been expanded to cover the memory of World War II, with military parades of varying sizes and national significance. In Australia, it is a relatively low-key affair. Always at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we stop in silence for a minute or two. The Last Post might be heard and poems may be read. It is a time for a moment of quiet reflection amidst our busy lives.

We are lucky the majority of our population has now not seen the likes of World War I and we live in a time of relative peace. But there are pockets of conflict and instability around the world that are affecting Australians and our national interests. Members of the Australian Defence Force and other arms of government are currently deployed on operations overseas.  Equally, some of our newer citizens may have escaped these conflict zones in search of a safer life.

Loss and sacrifice should be remembered, peace pursued and the lessons of history learned. It was clear to me at the conference as it is now, that while ANZAC Day occupies a more prominent place on our national calendar, what Remembrance Day symbolises is no less significant to Australia nor has its relevance waned with the passing of almost a century.

Greg Miller is an Associate Director in the Defence and National Security account and is part of KPMG’s cyber security team. He served in Iraq as a Defence civilian from 2006-2007.


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