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100 Years After World War I, Europe Remembers

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Here in the United States it is Veterans Day. In Europe, this is known as Remembrance Day. It falls on the date the guns fell silent at the end of the First World War. The holiday has special significance this year because it comes a century after the start of World War I. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London on an artistic remembrance that has attracted millions of visitors.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Volunteers have spent the last three months hammering red ceramic poppies into the dried out moat that surrounds the Tower of London. The first poppy went into the soil in August, a century to the day after the first full day of fighting in World War I. The last one was planted today - the anniversary of Armistice Day when the war ended. In ceremonies across the country, trumpets played, bells rang and people stood at silent attention.

(TRUMPET MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Now there are nearly 900,000 poppies in the moat - one for each soldier who died in World War I from the U.K. and the former British Empire.

LYNNE ENGLAND: Just look at it. Every single poppy, every poppy you hold is somebody's life, represents somebody's life, somebody who died in the war.

SHAPIRO: Lynne England visited London over the summer to plant poppies with her husband. She told me she did it to remember her great uncle, who was awarded the Victoria Cross medal for bravery.

ENGLAND: And he was awarded that in the First World War for holding his position whilst under fire. He was shot three times, but he held position and because of that he saved a lot of British lives. So we felt we had to come and plant a poppy for him today.

SHAPIRO: The scarlet poppy is a symbol of remembrance for a specific reason. This is the first wild flower to bloom after soil is churned up. So after every war in Western Europe, the fields where soldiers fell became vast expanses of red in the spring. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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