By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
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
November the 11th was a big deal growing up. During the late fifties and middle sixties in Moncton, we all took 11/11/11 very seriously. We prepared for the day in class by making poppy cut-outs and drawing white crosses with the words "Lest We Forget" on faux parchment paper.
By the time I was entering my teens, the second world war was ancient history. However, I was never very far from reminders of WW1 and WW2. We had numerous portraits and photos on the wall. One in particular, was of the man who I later learned was my Grandmother's first husband who she lost in the first war. She was a widow at eighteen. She then married her cousin who became my paternal grandfather.
His son, my dad, lied about his age to get in the army in the second war to end all wars. For a poor guy from Lewis Street, boarding a train and sailing to Europe must have seemed like a pretty exciting adventure and a great way to escape Moncton.
Like many vets, Dad never talked about the war. I did manage to grab snippets of information while growing up. He was a motorcycle courier in Sicily, and saw action in France. Both of these experiences left him with a distaste for anything continental and a visceral dislike of anything Italian.
However, we did learn later that London seemed to agree with him much more as rumours about an English half sister proved to be seeded in reality.
The Royal Canadian Legion was a big part of our lives. Even I learned how to play darts.
At school, we would stand and recite "In Flanders Field" and maintain a two minute silence which followed a recorded version of a bugler playing "The Last Post" on the screechy sound system.
Later, as I entered the Beatle generation and the whole sixties anti-war movement, I paid little notice to this annual glumfest.
Ironic that in the idyllic age of Aquarius life was so black and white. We figured by paying respects to those who sacrificed in the two "big" wars, these old guys were giving their thumbs up to the Vietnam debacle. and war in general. We confused respect for history and the lessons learned with glorification of violence and the political right wing. In my defense, I'm all grown up now.
The war to end all wars, didn't. The world will likely not change. As long as men lust for power and wealth, we will have the human tragedy of innocents trodden over by the heavy machinery of greed and corruption.
But the human spirit is resilient.
I had issues with my father; we were never close. I wasn't the tool carryin', car fixin' kind of son he could relate to. Nevertheless, with age, I have come to appreciate how difficult it must have been to have served six years of his young life in a land so far away; so strange and so dangerous.
That he would never discuss his experiences (like so many other veterans) doesn't surprise me. As a man who was never comfortable showing emotions, unless angry or tearing up to Perry Como's rendition of Ave Maria at Christmas, Dad couldn't possible have known how to "bring closure" to that locked up episode of his life
We are a spoiled generation. We are ignorant not only of our forefathers history, but can barely recite what had happened twenty years ago. History has become as disposable as our cell phones. That's a shame. Hopefully some leader will come along who will pay bigger attention to vision than polls and do something about our country's education system.
Until then, the least we can do is to take a moment to remember and pay respect to those whose sacrifices allow us the luxury to live in security and peace - and enable us to make our own voices heard without threat of censor or persecution.