Sunday, November 11, 2012 | Categories: Episodes
Remembrance Day: It was a day created to remember the terrible events and sacrifices of the First World War ...so that none could ever be said to have died in vain. The farther away we get from the World Wars, the act of remembrance becomes no less important ...but has it become more of a challenge?
How do you mark Remembrance Day ..and why?
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In the fall of 2010, my parents, in their early 70s, invited the entire family to travel to France to visit WWI and WWII sites. Three generations of us (17 people all together) visited Vimy, Juno Beach and a number of other sites where my maternal grandfather fought and was wounded during WWII. The children, teens and younger, were all struck by the courage it would take to fight in trenches or land on a cold windy beach to enemy gunfire. The men injured and killed were not much older than my teenage son. This was a profound experience for the whole family and we will forever mark Remembrance Day with more gratitude and reflection than we ever could have prior to this trip.
My dad was a RCAF bomber pilot. They had to ditch in France on the way back from a bombing run in German. All the crew survived, but spent the rest of the war in a POW camp, 2+ years. Near the end of the war, he escaped during a POW camp relocation and after several months made it back to allied lines. Ironically, my siblings and I were told little of his war time experience. However, with his grandchildren he was much more forthcoming.
During his life time, I cannot once recall talking about or participating in a Remembrance Day celebration, either at home or at an organized event. It was only through our kids (his grandkids) and their projects in their school where they researched and recognized Remembrance Day and our soldiers who participated in the various wars. Today, his great-grandkids are much more involved through their schools with Remembrance Day.
Schools and the education system have been very helpful in bringing the population awareness of and thoughts to remembering our war veterans.
We remember and celebrate all those military veterans of recent and distant wars, unfortunately, at the same time it paints governments position to send our citizens to war in a positive light, even those that the general population may not have supported, i.e. Afghanistan, support in the Iraq war (naval patrols of the Gulf).
Remembrance Day needs to bring the population to remember and celebrate those veterans that fought and at the same time, but also refocus our attention to why we go to war. We Canadians, need to clearly know and understand under what conditions and which situations we should ever consider going to war.
Penticton, British Columbia
My uncle, Gow Harvey, was in the air force in WWII. He was navigator in a Lancaster Bomber which was shot down over Germany. He was the only one to get out and his crew all died when the plane went down in flames. A few years ago, he came to his kids, nieces and nephews and asked them this: He had two friends who died in that crash and he found out that their families had died out. So he told us that all these years, he remembered those two chaps on Remembrance Day and would we now "take that torch" and remember them. He died a few years back and now I and my two daughters remember his crew members and, of course, him, on Remembrance Day. Brings me to tears every year.
On Remembrance Day we try to remember something that few of us have experienced directly. Walking through a military cemetery is as close as I have been to the horror of war. I visited a war cemetery in Normandy France. With military precision, five thousand white gravestones, equally spaced, fill manicured lawns, row after row after row. Gravestones are a kind of record of history by the numbers. Their inscriptions are heart-breaking.
Every year we remember. We tell students that we must learn history in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Yet we do not seem to learn enough to avoid repeating the same method of resolving conflicts. History text books focus on the political or economic causes of war instead of its devastation. Buildings crumble, bodies pile up, armaments proliferate, century after century.
Near this cemetery is the museum housing the thousand-year-old Bayeux Tapestry which depicts, in seventy metres of embroidered scenes, the Battle of Hastings, two power-hungry men sending soldiers into battle. In the tapestryâs border are rows and rows of nameless maimed civilians and dead soldiers under the hooves of the horses that bear the victorious William. His fame lives on. We remember the names of Churchill, Eisenhower, Stalin and Hitler, men sheltered from physical harm even as they sent thousands into battle. Where are the stories of the wounded, the bereaved, the too-soon dead?
An inscription in an older military cemetery reads "I fought and died in the Great War to end all Wars. Have I died in vain?"
How will we answer today?
My family is a military family and on NOvember 11 and the week leading up to November 11, family members talk about our parents and all family members who served, both in war and in peace; we post old photos on our FaceBook pages, we share stories, photos, documentaries, poems and memories. We visit our parents' graves, wear a poppy, and when possible, attend Ceremonies.
We also include in our stories, not only the call to remember those who served and fell, but the call of Never Again which our parents always included in the same sentence. It was a powerful lesson, taught by those who were there and experienced war, with simplicity and certainty.
Miramichi, New Brunswick
Today when the girls were putting on their poppies to go to the Remembrance Day service Suki asked why we had to wear poppies. Hannah told her it was because soldiers fought for Canada. This is the simplistic view of what the poppy can and should stand for; a view that as she grows older she may find difficult to reconcile with her Japanese heritage.
I explained that the poppy was for soldiers on all sides of the war. The soldiers who Canadians fought against were no more evil then our own soldiers; they didn't want to kill people, they didn't want to die. I told her that Japan was in the warâthis is something that, in this country, we don't talk much aboutâthe war in the Pacific. I told her that the war was started by rulers not by soldiers and that soldiers had to follow the instructions of the rulers or would be killed by their own people.
She wanted to know why the rulers wanted to go to war. I showed her a world map and described the wide spheres of influence both Germany and Japan had in the early 1940s and explained to her that they wanted all the land they could get and so sent their soldiers to invade other countries.
She wanted to know if Baba and Jiji (her grandparents in Japan) were in the war. They weren't but their fathers were as far as I know. Many Japanese don't talk much about the war but I did have some conversations with my in-laws about it while I was in Japan. They were young children during the war and were evacuated to the country-side where they were reduced to eating bugs and grass due to lack of supplies. They showed me pictures of their fathers who were in military uniform. I was too polite or cowardly to ask what had happened to those stern-faced men. Men that would be forever linked to my family. Men whose crimes or bravery would never known to me.
It's odd to feel that some part of you is the enemy. That on Remembrance Day people are remembering their victory over your people. I hope that when people are remembering the sacrifices of their soldiers they also remember soldiers are commanded by their political masters.
Guysborough, Nova Scotia