It seems cliché to reiterate every year how lucky we are that people throughout this nation’s history were willing to risk their lives for the greater good. It has become an automatic reflex to repeat “lest we forget” and “I remember” each November 11 without any second thought to what that really means. Us non-combatants are indeed lucky to only have to think of not forgetting and remembering from afar, knowing only what to remember from what others have told us. To live inside the mind of a veteran is something unfathomable to me, no amount of imagination will ever come close to life on the battlefield.
Attending the Montreal Remembrance Day ceremony on the grounds of McGill University gave me a grain of understanding, yet nothing close to the truth. The air was cold and the field muddy. The slight breeze was enough for the trees to loosen their leaves over the somber ceremony, the scene later enhanced by the sun peaking through the clouds as the bagpipes played. At 11am, a howitzer fired with a thud no one around was ready for, signalling the beginning of a two minutes of silence. People often compare the explosion of fireworks to what it must be like in a war zone, but one shot of the gun and those perceptions die. The gunpowder exploding in the barrel is enough to send a person into shock, being at the receiving end of payload is outside of my realm of emotional comprehension. The 21 shots reverberated in my bones, each delivering a new feeling and a new thought.
During the laying of the wreaths on the monument set up on the soccer field, the military band played songs that seemed to affect everyone around.The older gentleman next to me stood proudly, a tear running down his cheek as Flowers in the Forest was played. When it came time for God Save the Queen, every man and woman in uniform straightened their frames to salute, remaining that way for the rest of the short verse.
As the ceremony winded down, the chill got to me. Underdressed, my fingers were purpled and toes frozen. The saturated ground caved in about half an inch with every step, a far cry from the knee deep mud WWI combatants were used to in the trenches. I was there for over an hour and already ready for a warm cup of coffee. For four years, more than 600,000 Canadians lived and breathed this reality, the only escape found between the crosses, row on row; a destructive reality that kept our soldiers going.
I’ll likely never experience what countless Canadians have from the War of 1812 to present day Afghanistan, and I will never fully understand it. But my appreciation and admiration runs deep, and I am thankful to all those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the ideals we hold dear in Canada. While honouring our soldiers just one day of the year isn’t nearly enough, Remembrance Day belongs to them.
Lest We Forget
Visit the Prince Arthur Herald for a piece on what Remembrance Day means to me