It’s Remembrance Day today. We sat together as a family and watched the CBC coverage of the ceremony at our nation’s capital, as is our tradition on this morning. I’m a total mush about the occasion. The faces of the teary-eyed old men make me cry. Most of them don’t talk about their experiences easily, if at all, but the older they get, the more easily the tears seem to come. These are men who were brought up to believe that men don’t cry, and the seeing the stripping away of a lifetime of stoicism when they stand and remember breaks my heart.
And then, of course, there’s the mother, chosen from among those who have lost a son or daughter to represent all mothers. She puts a lump in my throat every year, whoever she is, her presence all the reminder I need to think about the fact that every single soldier is someone’s child.
Whatever political good comes or doesn’t come from Canada’s presence in Afghanistan, 133 Canadians have been killed there so far, mostly by improvised explosive devices. Their loss has added a fresh poignancy to Remembrance Day services here. TV coverage shows bigger crowds at every venue. There are children in our country who once again know first-hand what it means to lose a parent serving overseas. What was beginning to seem to some to be irrelevant history is new again, and with the new relevance, the boys killed in WWI and WWII are no longer too distant to mourn for those who had started to forget. Instead, they’re reflected in the faces of today’s soldiers, and we remember.
I’ve always believed in the importance of Remembrance Day, so I like to see the crowds, see the tomb of the unknown soldier covered completely in poppies, see hours of national TV coverage devoted to the day. But the heart of the day is always in the individuals, not the crowd. Here are some of mine:
– my paternal grandfather worked as a trainer at in WWII, in a job that meant he readied too many boys to go off to be killed, and it was too much for him to bear. He died a few years later, unable to recover from what his job had meant;
– my great grand uncle served with the Australian forces in WWI. He was wounded, but went on to live decades more. As the family genealogist, I was thrilled when Australia released digital versions of WWI service files online and I was able to read where he’d been and exactly what had happened to him. These are an invaluable resource to anyone researching WWI military history. You can find them here;
– my great uncle learned to swim when his ship was torpedoed off the coast of Africa in WWII. The story goes that he came ashore wearing nothing but his boots. He had a lucky unlucky streak: he was on two torpedoed ships and got hit by a jeep during his service, but died fifty years after the war at home in Scotland;
– during my teaching practicum, I invited a holocaust survivor to speak to my grade eight class as part of our unit on The Diary of Anne Frank. His story captivated us and silenced even the biggest handful in the class from the moment he showed us his Auschwitz ID tattoo until the end of his tale. I’ll never forget hearing his experiences and seeing the distant look in his eye while he related them because he was there, seeing it all over again, as he spoke;
– my best friend’s husband currently serves in the Canadian Navy. He served in the Persian Gulf. He’s away for a few days on an exercise, but it otherwise home at the moment. Long may that continue.
Whom do you remember?