The following article was prepared for Politics Plus
by Lynn Squance
When I was about 11 years old, my friend, Sharon, and I would put sandwiches, fruit and something to drink into our knapsacks along with a plastic German luger or other such ‘weapon’, and head down to a park along the river to play ‘war games’. This was no ordinary park in the city, but a very natural park with forest , a pasture where a farmer would let his cows roam freely (look out for the fresh cow patties!), the Grand River flowing by on one side, and an old stone building that was crumbling (no roof). We would play down there for hours on end and feel good later that we had done our part to win freedom from the German Army of WWII.
A year later, I had grown up and on 11 November, dressed in a kilt, white blouse and a navy blazer that had been my grandmother’s with the maple leaf and the word ‘Canada’ emblazoned on the chest pocket, I walked the 5 kilometres to the Cenotaph and joined in the remembrance of the fallen. My friends were at home playing (in most of Canada, 11 November is a statutory holiday) while I walked alone, but not really alone. This gave me the time to think about the soldiers that had died during WWI. My grandfather was in the Canadian Army during WWI but spent his entire enlistment in Saskatchewan — possibly a medical reason kept him in Canada — but I was never quite able to figure it out. I reasoned that someone else went to the battlefields of France which meant that my grandfather was home safe. And for that, I have been and will continue to be very appreciative. And for that, I will continue to mourn the loss of life of those I did not even know.
I googled ‘Remembrance Day’ and found something I didn’t know, or if I did, I have long since forgotten. From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_Day
The central ritual at cenotaphs throughout the Commonwealth is a stylized night vigil. The Last Post was the common bugle call at the close of the military day, and the Rouse was the first call of the morning. For military purposes, the traditional night vigil over the slain was not just to ensure they were indeed dead and not unconscious or in a coma, but also to guard them from being mutilated or despoiled by the enemy, or dragged off by scavengers. This makes the ritual more than just an act of remembrance but also a pledge to guard the honour of war dead. The act is enhanced by the use of dedicated cenotaphs (literally Greek for "empty tomb") and the laying of wreaths—the traditional means of signalling high honours in ancient Greece and Rome.
Remembrance Day is a day of "remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace".
The First Two Minute Silence in London (11 November 1919) was reported in the Manchester Guardian on 12 November 1919:
The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect. The tram cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume, and stopped dead, and the mighty-limbed dray horses hunched back upon their loads and stopped also, seeming to do it of their own volition. Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of ‘attention’. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes, and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still … The hush deepened. It had spread over the whole city and become so pronounced as to impress one with a sense of audibility. It was a silence which was almost pain … And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.
In 2012, Canada became the 3rd nation to commemorate the sacrifice of animals in times of war behind Australia and the United Kingdom. And animals have made very significant contributions — Horses, dogs, pigeons and doves.
As the calendar turns towards Remembrance Day, humans took the opportunity to honour the war-time contributions of animals on Saturday.
The Animals in War memorial dedication at downtown Ottawa’s Confederation Park brought out hundreds of people and animals to recognize their service alongside Canadian veterans.
“I was in Korea for a year, we had canine units and dog handlers who would take the dogs out on patrol,” said founder Lloyd Swick.
“The dogs, with a tremendous element of smell, could detect if an enemy was present and the dog’s hair would bristle on its neck.”
From Ottawa CTV News
For many Canadian school children certainly of my generation, there is an iconic poem written by Lt Colonel Dr John McCrae on 03 May 1915 while on the battlefield in Ypres.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
From: John McCrae
This poem was written in memory of John McCrae’s close friend and former student Alexis Helmer who was killed by a German shell on 02 May 1915. When McCrae himself succumbed to pneumonia and meningitis on 28 January 1918, his funeral procession was led by his horse, Bonfire, whom he dearly loved.
Lest We Forget