Sunday, November 11, 2012


I originally posted this on Remembrance Day 2008. I haven't been able to say it any better since.

The men in this picture are Canadians celebrating their great victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917. They are all gone now. Some of them are buried in France or Belgium; they never made it home. Others survived to return to Canada.

In every small town in Canada you will find a hockey arena, a LCBO (or its equivalent) and a war memorial. I have seen them in Fernie B.C. and in Truro, Nova Scotia, in university residences and the avenues of Toronto, in the centre of Charlottetown and in the centre of my own hometown of Sudbury. Even in Goulais River there is a war memorial with far too many names on it, young men who left their little town and never came back, including Private Ivan McLean, killed in the slaughter at Passchendaele.
I was at a funeral in PEI last summer, held in a tiny old church on a slight rise, overlooking rolling green fields and down below, the Northumberland Strait. The church was built in the 19th century, it was stifling hot the day I was there, though it was just May. A simple beautiful building, built near a crossroads, it has served the farmers who lived in the countryside around. And on the wall, at the entrance, a plaque with six names on it, farmers' boys who lie buried in Flanders, have been for nearly a century and will be there for eternity.

Sixty thousand Canadians perished in the Great War and forty thousand more in the war that followed just over twenty years later. Just boys most of them. They marched cheerfully to Europe in 1914. It was a time of innocence and they believed in their country and their Empire and in the fight against Germany. A war that never should have happened, millions of men slaughtered, drowning in the muck, blown apart by shells, machine gunned as they attacked impregnable positions, led by donkeys who had no idea of what they were ordering these boys to do. The same foolish old men who botched the war botched the peace so that barely twenty years later Canadians again marched off to Europe, many sons of the survivors of World War One. This time they marched with caution and knowing of the horrors that lay ahead yet they marched just the same.

Ask the Dutch or the French or the Belgians what Canada means to them. The sacrifices made to destroy a brutish ideology and save the world are not forgotten there and thankfully, after years of neglect, are not forgotten here. On Sunday morning take a moment and honour the young men and women who fought (and fight) for our country. You may not believe in the war, whether it be the useless slaughter in France ninety years ago or the current conflict in Afghanistan, but honour these boys who fought for their country. We live in a country whose freedoms and prosperity are amongst the greatest enjoyed in the world. So much of that is because of men like those in the picture above, the best that Canada had to offer.

Think of their sacrifice. Think of their courage. Be thankful for where we live for we owe so much of what we enjoy to them.

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