Up here, north of the 49th parallel, today is Remembrance Day, which is actually more analogous to the U.S. holiday Memorial Day. It is when we remember those who died in the service of Canada. There will be military parades and observances just about everywhere, from big cities to small communities, and all at the same local time. My 17-year-old son is in Air Cadets and will be participating in the local parade, the focal point of which is always the “two minutes of silence” at 11:00 am (commemorating the time when the guns fell silent in World War One — “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”). One component of every ceremony is the laying of wreaths at the local cenotaph to honour the fallen. The other large part is the reading of the poem “In Flanders Fields”, written by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in 1915, after presiding over the funeral of a fellow WWI soldier. I think that just about any Canadian over the age of 10 could recite this from memory.
It is this poem, which speaks of the poppies growing on the graves of the fallen in Flanders, Belgium, that gives us our Remembrance Day symbol: the poppy.
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.
I believe that this poem, and the poppy symbol are also associated with Memorial Day.
Also often recited during our ceremonies is the lesser-known 4th stanza, called the “Ode of Remembrance”, from a 1914 poem by Laurence Binyon called “For the Fallen”. To me it is a fitting tribute to those who have died serving their country:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
On a more personal note, our son surprised us a few weeks back when he came home from school (his senior year) and announced that instead of going to our local university to study engineering, he wanted to apply to Royal Military College (the Canadian equivalent of West Point or the US Air Force Academy), get his degree in Electrical/Computer Engineering there, and become an Aerospace Engineering Officer in the Air Force. As one who spent 29 years in an Air Force uniform, I could not have been more proud.
Go thank a veteran and have a great day!