In remembrance

A few words to mark the occasion from Harper, Ignatieff, Layton and more

by Aaron Wherry

In remembrance

  1. "All we have of freedom, all we use or know –
    This our fathers bought for us long and long ago."

    ~Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue, 1899

  2. A million people will hear or recite "In Flanders Fields" today, but there were other excellent WWI poems from Canadians. Here's "The Stretcher Bearer" by Robert Service, who served as a stretcher bearer for almost the whole length of the war.

    My stretcher is one scarlet stain,
    And as I try to scrape it clean,
    I tell you what — I'm sick with pain
    For all I've heard, for all I've seen;
    Around me is the hellish night,
    And as the war's red rim I trace,
    I wonder if in Heaven's height
    Our God don't turn away his face.

    I don't care whose the Crime may me,
    I hold no brief for kin or clan;
    I hymn ho hate: I only see
    As man destroys his brother man;
    I wave no flag: I only know,
    As here beside the dead I wait,
    A million hearts are weighed with woe,
    A million homes are desolate.

    In dripping darkness, far and near,
    All night I've sought those woeful ones.
    Dawn shudders up and still I hear
    The crimson chorus of the guns.
    Look! like a ball of blood the sun
    Hangs o'er the scene of wrath and wrong . . .
    "Quick! Stretcher-bearers on the run!"
    O Prince of Peace! How long, how long!

  3. I liked Mark Holland's statement the best, I think — because it was so specific and I learned something; though Peter Stoffer's event was also impressive, with those formidable veterans on-hand. Some of the other statements seem to illustrate the problem of oblivion more than they help to solve it. "Peace freedom justice" is not one word, to be run together, it's three separate, important words that should each be dwelt on.

    I'd like to see each Remembrance Day ceremony across the country tell one, or two, or three separate stories of actual Canadian combat deaths. It is all well and good to honour living veterans, but Remembrance Day is first and foremost about remembering the dead, especially those who died so honourably serving Canada. We could start by making sure that the story of every death in Afghanistan is told. A single real story is worth more than a thousand abstractions: not only do the dead more than deserve it, but hearing their stories focuses the mind of the listener on the real significance of November 11.

    • The best idea I've heard in a long time.

  4. Amen, Jack.
    Some do, (our school did) if a local has recently lost their life, but that should happen regardless of place.
    At the school ceremony I attended today, I wasn't looking at the faces of the ww2 veterans, as do most. I was looking at the faces of two of my friends, both still looking slightly uncomfortable in their dress uniforms, who are shipping out in a few weeks and were in the colour party. I wondered how they, and others like them, feel that ceremonies tend to completely gloss over the current war, focussing for other, 'safer' options. Why? A war is by definition controversial. I am going to quote a *cough cough* review of the movie Passchendaele and say that World War 1 is a better example of Canada at war than WW2, because it was ethically grey, or words to that effect. Today was the first time that "Never Again" was not performed, and was replaced with "A Pittance of Time", which seemed appropriate.
    Lest we forget.

  5. Their own souls rose and cried
    Alarum when they heard the sudden wail
    Of stricken freedom and along the gale
    Saw her eternal banner quivering wide.
    ~John LeGay Brereton

  6. God, I can't wait until this day of enforced solemnity is over. It's been a bad time for Remembrance Days in the last few years, given the sheer pointlessness of the military adventures (every last one of them, WW2) we've been dragged into.

    There. I said it.

    • If there were more like you around you 65 years ago we'd be speaking German today.

      Why don't you just go shopping, you confused ingrate.

      • No, Foreigner has touched upon something many people feel. Harper's crass politicisation of the last few Armistice Days has been sordid indeed. He has cheapened what should be a solemn day that brings all Canadians together rather than yet another pretext for an attack ad against his perceived political enemies. Harper just doesn't get it: this day is about those who have fought and fallen; it is not about him and his agenda.

        • Concrete examples of this would be more enlightening than your (admittedly entertaining) rants.

          • How about Harper's habit of using the lion's share of his remarks to expatiate on the Afghan mission (which divides Canadians, regardless of one's private views regarding it) and using the left-over scraps of his time to honour those who have fallen during Canada's storied 200-year military history? What goes into that odd editorial decision, precisely, if not misguided political calculation and ideological bias?

            At least the presence of the Prince of Wales at this year's ceremony may knock some sense into Harper. Perhaps we'll be reminded of the real reason so many Canadians fought and fell throughout the generations–devotion to King and Country (and Queen and Country), not devotion to the White House and its geo-strategic priorities.

      • That was my thinking, we would all be goose stepping.

    • There. I said it.

      How DARE! you exercise the very freedom our vets fought to protect.

      • Decadence and degeneracy should be tolerated, but hardly encouraged. Democracy thrives despite and not because of them. Democracy takes hard work. And our soldiers have paid and continue to pay, the biggest price.

        • Decadence and degeneracy should be tolerated, but hardly encouraged.

          We don't encourage you, jarrid.

      • Worked like a charm. It got the little cretinJarrid to reveal just how his kind have corrupted the significance of Remembrance Day.

        On a day of silent reflection, I'm sure he's been screeching since early this morning.

    • I do not care about the politics – it's not about that.

      I go to the ceremonies and think about my Grandfather who at age 22, in 1944, had is plane shot down; he parachuted out but was captured by Germans and was a POW for 18 months. He was lucky; he survived and lived until 85. The pilot did not survive.

      So this day of "enforced solemnity" has nothing to do with the politics of war and everything to do with remembering sacrifices made by ordinary Canadians throughout history – whether you agree with cause or not.

    • It's a difficult line to walk at the best of times.

    • "There. I said it."

      And you are fortunate to live in a country where people have fought, and died, for your right to be ignorant and offensive.

      • Enlist, you basement-dwelling bore.

        • Fortunately for you, you have the right to free speech. Fortunatly for you, I can only interact with you virtualy. And before you can tell me to enlist, I plan to enlist as a medical officer. Our military does good work- ask the citizens of Holland or Bosnia. Our soldiers are good people. Soldiers go where they're ordered- they're not allowed to have opinions. They just do their work faithfully, and as best they can. Some of them die in the line of duty, and we should remember them every god****ed day, but especially at 11:11 on November the 11th.

          • Thank you in advance for your service, Sophia.

    • *Enforced* solemnity? Yup, you are nuts.

      Whose gun was pointing at your head forcing you to plop in a twonie when you walked by the aging but damn proud veteran manning the rickety poppy table outside the grocery store? Who tightened the thumbscrews until you blurted out "… nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning…" ? Were you frogmarched by stormtroopers down to the cenotaph? Did the CRTC make every channel on your dish broadcast History Channel stock footage of the Normandy Invasion?

      Enforced, indeed. You have a choice: Get a dictionary. Or, better yet, a life.

  7. Thank you Macleans for acknowledging this day. I read the headlines today……..opinion journalists (Hebert, Ivison, Spector, etc) would rather rant politics than take a day to remember – shame on them.

    Politics should be dropped today. Men and women of all political stripes fought.

    Disgusting

  8. Possibly the reason that this isn't done is because "killed by a roadside bomb/ killed by a roadside bomb / killed by a roadside bomb / killed by a roadside bomb" just won't compare, so they don't dwell on it.

  9. I have had occasion to visit many different war memorials over the years. My wife is from Verdun in eastern France, and when we visit my in-laws it is impossible, even today, to be far away from the battle fought so long ago. A walk in the woods anywhere near the city leads to crumbling trench lines, dug outs and gun emplacements. Dozen of cemetaries containing the graves of more than 120000 french and german soldiers are within 30 kilometers of the city.

  10. One summer morning I found myself watching the sun rise over the cemetary at Douaumont. I was siting on the steps of the great monument that was built there to accomodate the overwhelming number of dead the battle produced. In a crypt beneath the monument a total of somewhere between 115000 to 125000 french and german soldiers are buried in a common grave. In the great vaulted hall above the crypt the men are identified by which section of battlefield their remains came from. They are all unknown soldiers. Occasionally more human remains are found in the now overgrown battlefields and the appropriate section of the crypt is opened and they are laid to rest there with those he fought with and against in 1916. In front of the monument are the individual graves of some 10000 french soldiers marked by crosses, stars of david and the crescent of Islam.

  11. For half an hour I was alone there watching the sun burn away the morning mist between the graves. No vehicle went by, I heard no voice. What struck me most was the silence of the place and the youth of those soldiers who were identified on the grave markers: some were no more than teenagers and the average age was no more than 20 or 21. The overwhelming tragedy of the place, even after all this time, is that of the years these men could have lived and did not. Douaumont is a place where a million years of possibilities are buried. There are many such places in France.

    • You are lucky to have the chance to see so close and get a feeling of the bravery and heroism of these soldiers, it would be great if more people would get to experience and see it more often, to understand truly what it takes from them to have our country the way it is right now, I am very proud of them and gladly help when need it, I don't feel like I do enough but try to encourage them as much as I can.

      I loved the poems posted in the earlier posts!

  12. Jack, thank you for sharing the pieces above.

  13. The numbers impress but it is the individual stories that are the most touching. A couple of years ago certain racist remarks concerning “Arabs” by rather ignorant French politicians (all nations suffer from this disease but it is more virulent in France than in Canada) annoyed me enough to cause me to do a bit of research. The French Defence Department has an amazing website which not only lists the names of all the French soldiers who died in WW1 (more than 1,250,000) but in most cases also provides access to a copy of the official death certificate. I was going to write a letter to one of the French newspapers and in response to the bigots and the racists and thought it would be interesting to quote some statistics as rebuttal to their ignorance. A quick search of the site revealed that between 1914 and 1918 a total of 2985 French soldiers whose family name was Mohamed died while in service on the Western Front.

  14. I picked one of the names at random to display the death certificate and by pure coincidence it belonged to Ahmed bin Mohamed a soldier in the Regiment de Tirailleurs Marocains born in Marrakech, Morocco in 1895 and who was killed on the 23rd of May, 1916 at Fleury devant Douaumont. Fleury is one of the lost villages which were totally destroyed during the war and never rebuilt. It is only 2 kilometers from the great war cemetery at Douaumont where he is probably buried, almost within sight of the city of Verdun.

  15. I kept the copy of the death certificate and the following summer when we were visiting France it was in a book about the battle of Verdun which I brought along with me. We were visiting in June and we were there for the anniversary of the Battle of Verdun which is celebrated the second or third Sunday in the month (sorry I have forgotten the exact date. I went to Douaumont for the ceremonies (my wife never goes to these things … having grown up in Verdun the battle has always been an oppressive and depressing memory for her). There were too many people at the monument so I went to Fleury were there were more modest ceremonies taking place. I had my guide to the battlefields with me and the copy of the death certificate was still there. On an impulse I took it out and, finding a small stone on the side of the road, I put it on top of the stone marker that identifies the location of the lost village of Fleury. I hope someone found it and maybe realised that the ”Dead of Verdun” had names and lives beyond the horror of the battlefields.

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