Twelve years ago today I was living in England and decided to take a study break do my weekly grocery trip. I was pushing my shopping trolley around Tescos when a voice came over the intercom announcing that all customers should stop shopping and observe the two minutes of silence to remember the members of their armed forces who had died in the line of duty. Everyone stopped. Mobile phones were silenced. The store was quiet. Nearby a small child asked his mum what was going on. In a hushed whisper she briefly explained, and the boy stayed still. It was made all the more moving because everyone honored it.
After it was over and I continued collecting my groceries, it hit me: It was 11/11 at 11 am, the marking of the end of World War I. I felt so grateful that I’d decided to do my weekly shopping at that time so I could have that experience. On my way out of the store, I bought a poppy.
I let the old man selling it pin it to my coat after he looked so sad when I initially declined. I then went home to look up the significance of all the poppies I’d seen around. I quickly discovered it came from the poem “In Flanders Field.”
As I was talking to my classmates about what I’d seen at Tescos, the subject came around to the topic of history in general. Someone asked me about the dates of WWII. Without thinking, I told him what I’d been taught, 1941-1945. He laughed and said, “How American.” I agreed. I then told him what my AP US History teacher taught us about the true beginning of the war: the killing of Archduke Ferdinand in 1916. I then launched into a discussion of the war reparations that caused hyperinflation in Germany and ultimately set the stage for the rise of Hitler. At least I regained some historical cred, even though my timeline was still not Euro-centric (or from his perspective – accurate).
Having grown up on the West Coast, Veterans Day was not a day we had off from work or school. This experience placed in my head the need to mark the actual date. Now it matters now to me, and I give my moment of silence.
Am I the only one that managed to miss out on reading “In Flanders Field” in school? or When do you observe moments of silence?