Some time ago I was reading a local newspaper and came across a columnist’s thoughts on Remembrance Day. It was very respectful and started out by asking some rather good questions. The excerpt that got my attention in particular was:
“And, as usual, we’ll pause, briefly perhaps, to reflect on the meaning of that global slaughter (WW 1) and the following wars that, in hindsight, marked the passage of the last century. Yet just what is it that we choose to remember? For those who weren’t there, who weren’t actors in the carnage that took place, is remembrance even possible in any meaningful sense? And, just what, in real terms, do these annual token gestures amount to?”
As I reflected on these questions and others that came to mind, I realised how far removed each of my children and grandchildren are from those wars and how those Canadians who served were influenced. If, indeed, they were only influenced and not killed. My own generation is one of the first in a long time that has not had to go to war to defend our freedom and culture as Canadians. Not able to pass on any first hand experiences of war, I reasoned that it must be difficult for the following generations to understand what this Remembrance Day is all about.
Through my father, I had some opportunity to understand a bit about what it meant. He signed up in 1916 when he was 19 years old and, thankfully, came home in 1918. His youngest brother, John, was killed in World War 2 and sadly did not come home.
Normally my Dad didn’t cry, at least not in front of me. However, when I accompanied him to Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Calgary Cenotaph at Central Memorial Park, I always saw tears in his eyes. As I got older I asked him to tell me something about the war. It was difficult to get him to say much. His war was World War I and he served as an artilleryman. His responsibility was to handle donkeys harnessed in trains so they could pull heavy cannons from place to place. He then had to set up and fire the canons as directed. He tried to describe to me the fear he felt as he hung over the side of the donkeys to protect himself from enemy fire. He had more than one donkey shot out from under him. He also described the muck and mire that they fought in, but the conversation could never get very far before he choked with emotion and had to stop.
I also remember Dad’s good feelings when he heard marching band music. He especially liked the bagpipes. Back in the 1950’s the mass bands of the Black Watch or Cameron Highlanders from Scotland put on concerts in Calgary. Dad took me to every one of those concerts where I learned to like the Scottish bagpipes and I still love their sound today. I know, to some that seems a bit weird. At those concerts, Dad would always buy their latest record, then, for the next several days our house would resound with marching music in the evening. Dad would take great delight in marching around the house to that music. I’ll not forget the care he took to show me the slow march and explain how hard it was to do when on parade.
As I have aged, my respect and feelings has grown for those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces. They put their lives in danger not only in the two World Wars, but also in the other wars and skirmishes Canadians have been involved in.
Can I pass on my feelings about Remembrance Day to my children and grandchildren so they understand? Probably not as effectively as I would like. However, now, in 2022, with the ‘new’ war in Ukraine, the next generations can see the impact of war on what was a stable and successful society. It looks as frightening as ever.
"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've written a few short stories, but only one novel. It took so much effort and time that I've been hesitant to start another, even though I have several ideas for another running around in my head.
This essay seems like an appropriate segue to promote my novel to those that don't already own their own copy. It takes place during WW 2. Follow the link below to learn to how to obtain a copy.
A novel by John Thomas Blair (me!): Come Home, Jack