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Is Remembrance Day fading in Australia?

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Vietnam veteran John Prentis can’t understand it, and he is not alone.

As ANZAC Day rises in national significance, Remembrance Day is losing its place as a time to quietly pay our respects to the war dead, to their heroism and to the national sacrifice of sending generations of young men and women far from home to fight a blood-soaked World War.

With this year marking a century since the outbreak of World War I, ANZAC veterans are hoping the milestone will rekindle interest in an occasion they fear is dying a quiet death.

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Mr Prentis, who served as a Sapper with the Royal Australian Engineers, hopes the extra publicity of the centenary will see more Australians joining in with the rest of the world to remember the date the Great War ended.

“Thanks to all the marketing, TV stuff, education in school, and it being a public holiday, ANZAC Day is progressing, while Remembrance Day is regressing,” he says.

“It just doesn’t get promoted, although it could well be a bit bigger this year, there’s been more media coverage.”

Red poppies at graves of war dead
Crosses and red poppies commemorate the war dead. Photo: Shutterstock

As president of the Sorrento RSL in Victoria, he sees at ground level how differently the two occasions are received by the public. He told The New Daily that while thousands flock to Sorrento’s ANZAC day services, Remembrance Day barely manages to pull in a couple of hundred.

Mr Prentis says the event has become more a day for private reflection, as opposed to the medley of services and parades of ANZAC Day.

“It is a moment’s silence across Australia whatever people are doing, whether they do in their homes or not I don’t know but that is what it is about.”

Worldwide, Remembrance Day is easily the biggest war memorial occasion going around. Across the globe red poppies can be seen pinned to lapels not just on the day itself, but the weeks leading up to it.

And this year Britain isn’t just wearing red poppies for the big day: 888,246 of the flowers have been planted within the moat of the Tower of London – one for every Commonwealth soldier who perished in the War to End all Wars.

Meanwhile, Canada is recognising the date with a public holiday, as are France and Belgium, with the French using blue cornflowers in place of red poppies.

Here in Australia however, interest in what was formerly known as Armistice Day has slowly but surely faded away in favour of our own special ANZAC occasion.

Professor Peter Stanley of the UNSW Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society told The New Daily that Remembrance Day didn’t always live in the shadow of its ANZAC counterpart.

Anzac Day
Medals are seen on a veteran on Anzac Day, 2014. Photo: AAP

The former Australian War Memorial senior historian claims that in the 1930s through to the 50s, it was front and centre in the national psyche. Particularly during the unpopular Vietnam War era, interest in both occasions dropped away, but while ANZAC Day has since re-emerged, November 11 is still missing in action, and Stanley thinks that is a problem.

“Remembrance Day was almost in competition with ANZAC Day, and ANZAC has won hands down,” he said.

“There is a very national focus to ANZAC Day, while for Remembrance Day the focus is increasingly on all those who died in wars, regardless of who they fought for.”

He says there is a growing internationalism associated with November 11, a more general reflection of the impact of war on all people, as opposed to a day that promotes national pride.

“It is much more sombre too: it isn’t associated with positive qualities like mateship, as ANZAC Day is,” he said.

Mr Stanley says that without the extensive TV coverage and public holiday enjoyed by ANZAC Day, red poppies are unlikely to make a sustained comeback in Australia.

“If I were a betting man, I’d say we will see a continuing slide in popularity of Remembrance Day, halted temporarily by the centenary.”

Back in the Sorrento RSL clubroom, Mr Prentis isn’t so sure. He predicts a bit more interest this year, but that the occasion will really pick up momentum in 2018 for the centenary of the event that Remembrance Day actually recognises: the end of the Great War, not the beginning of it.

“That will be big: 100 years since World War One ended,” he said. “It will be a sad day if they stop commemorating it – and I don’t think they will, ever.”

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