Remembrance Day 2019

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son’s sons…

Deuteronomy 4:9

It’s been 101 years since the war ended. Time flies when…

Remembrance Cenotaph, City Hall, Edmonton, Alberta

I’m going to pay special attention to the Great War, World War I, in this post. My prior post on remembrance for the 75th anniversary of D-Day is here. A young acquaintance of mine asked me earlier this year if the Great War was World War II. He did not know there were two World Wars. So, you get the Great War this year.

Most of the readership here is not Canadian, so I’ll go over the ways in which my country respects those who served in war. Remembrance Day is Canada’s national memorial day. It was chosen as it was the day in 1918 when the Great War finally ended. Most British Commonwealth members adopted this day as their Memorial Day. In the United States of America, it is referred to as Veterans Day.

Tradition holds that one or two minutes of silence are observed beginning at 11:00 AM. Most nations hold some kind of memorial ceremony, and in Canada, each of the provinces hold one and the federal government does as well. In Ottawa, the ceremony takes place at the National War Memorial where Elgin Street meets Wellington Street, next to the Rideau Canal, half a block east of Parliament. In what must have been the ultimate foreshadowing, it was dedicated in May of 1939. Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was laid at the same site in 2000.

mcg-nwm-img1

National War Memorial, Ottawa (Canadian Heritage)

When I attended it several years ago, people flooded the streets to pay respects and traffic in downtown Ottawa came to a halt. Our prime minister always attends, and many dignitaries also make the trip to Ottawa. We even sometimes get one of the Canadian Royal Family (same as of the United Kingdom as far as I can tell). The speeches are made, the Anthem is sung, wreaths are laid, the bells of the Peace Tower ring out, a 21 gun salute is fired, and the Canadian Air Force flies overhead. If you ever get a chance, go see it.

Poppies_by_Benoit_Aubry_of_Ottawa

By Benoit Aubry, Ottawa

 

Remembrance Poppies are a big thing in Canada. These small plastic poppies are pinned to the left side of the coat or jacket, nearer the heart the better. They appear at least a couple of weeks before Remembrance Day. They are to be worn from the last Friday in October to November 11th. Donations are asked in exchange for poppies, and go to the Canadian Legion which uses the money to help Canadian veterans and their families. The Legion has a poppy wearing guide here. Store owners usually place the open cardboard boxes with poppies in them near the till or checkout. It is customary to drop a Toonie (2 Dollar Coin) in exchange for a poppy. Although, some stores have moved them behind the counter as some are raided for the cash when staff are not looking.

The poppy is the memorial symbol because of Anna Guérin. She was a French citizen who gave away paper poppies in exchange for donations to help orphans in war torn France, starting in 1919. Initially, she went to the US to raise funds, but the idea took hold across the world.

Poppies are also prominent in a very famous poem about the Great War: In Flanders Fields. John McCrae, a physician and Second Boer War veteran, joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a gunner and medical officer, at 41 years of age. He wrote the poem on May 3, 1915, after attending a friend’s funeral, who had died after a chlorine gas attack by the Germans. In spite of that horror, the Canadians held the line for over two weeks.

image003

(Some Canadiana: Since 1952, the locker room of the Montreal Canadiens has the second and third lines from the third stanza printed on the wall above the stalls. This has survived the move into their latest home at the Centre Bell in 1996.)

Swedish Power Metal band Sabaton has a choral version of In Flanders Fields here:

Sabaton’s latest album is The Great War. They are a power metal band and so they play with speed, clean vocals, and are usually quite upbeat. They write songs about glory in war and military. The Great War is probably their finest album. Their songs almost always give a sense of glory to the characters they write about. But not this album. In several songs there is simply a lamentation that the soldiers who lost their lives did so for no good purpose. It was not until I listened to this album that I understood fundamentally why the Great War was such a terrible conflict.

In that war, the efforts of the European powers, using industrial processes, collectivism, and managerialism, turned the ENTIRETY of their nation’s productive capacity towards instruments of war which were designed to kill soldiers, and brought them to bear all across Europe and Asia. This was an effort that had begun under Kings such as France’s Louis XIV, improved under Napoleon and Lincoln, reaching its fruition in the Great War, and then perfected for profiteers in World War II. Against the might of that unseeing and unsympathetic monolith, where was there any chance of glory? There was little, and most were annihilated in an orgy of wanton carnage. Sabaton memorializes this in song when, 101 years later, we have forgotten:

Great War

 

Where dead men lies I’m paralyzed
My brothers’ eyes are gone
And he shall be buried here
Nameless marks his grave
Mother home, get a telegram
And shed a tear of grief
Mud and blood, in foreign land
Trying to understand

 

Where is this greatness I’ve been told?
This is the lies that we’ve been sold
Is this a worthy sacrifice?

 

Great War
And I cannot take more
Great tour
I keep on marching on
I play the great score
There will be no encore
Great War
The war to end all wars

You can listen to the entire album on YouTube here. The video for Great War is here:

To close, Rudyard Kipling, written for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897:

Recessional

 

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

Far-called our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s