Silence hung heavily over the pews of Old North Church on Sunday morning, as dozens stood motionless and reverent, many with red paper poppies pinned to their chests
Then bagpipes began to play.
The reedy sound of “Flowers of the Forest,” a traditional Scottish folk tune, pierced the quiet and echoed through the church.
The moment of silence and the historic ballad marked a local observance of a British tradition — Remembrance Sunday— which honors fallen service members on the second Sunday of each November.
This year, Remembrance Sunday happened to fall on the day before Veterans Day, the federal holiday in the United States marking the anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended World War I.
The poppies have served as a symbol of military personnel killed in action for almost 100 years, inspired by the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields,” by Canadian poet and soldier John McCrae.
The poem, which was read Sunday at the service inside Old North Church, describes the carnage of World War I and asks that the soldiers who lost their lives be remembered.
The Rev. Stephen Ayres spoke in an interview of the Remembrance Sunday tradition and its meaning.
“It’s important for us,” Ayres said. “It’s not a time to glorify war; it’s a time to sort of acknowledge the sacrifices that have taken place because of war.”
As parishioners began filing out of the church following Ayres’ sermon, the choir sang “God Save the Queen.”
Churchgoers then gathered outside in the chill November air for a wreath laying at a memorial to fallen service members. The memorial was made of fence posts connected by chains hung with blank dog tags. The wind periodically blew through the metal, causing the tags to ring out like chimes.
After the wreaths were laid, British Consul General Harriet Cross presented Major Michael Court of the Royal Army Medical Corps with a medal honoring his service in Iraq. Court is in Boston for a medical fellowship.
Court said he was grateful for the medal, and that the holiday offered an opportunity for reflection.
“Obviously, as a serving member, it’s an opportunity to cause you to reflect on all those who have come before us,” Court said, “and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to see the freedoms that we have.”