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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget, A retrospective of Remembrance Day

Forgive me if I go a little political and patriotic. Today is one of those days in my life that has a lot of significance for me. I was a soldier once and in the Air Cadets. For about 13 years of my life I participated in every single Remembrance Day parade and memorial. Whether it was sunny and beautiful or cold and miserable, I was on parade. All parades started at different locations. In Orillia it was at the Legion, in Barrie it was in front of the Town Hall. It didn't matter much where they started they always ended up in front of the city's memorial or cenotaph. We would start our march at about 10:30 and be in front of the memorial about 15 minutes later. There the ceremony would start and we would sing the hymns, read the poetry, and at 11:00 am we would all bow our heads for the moment of silence. Wreaths would be laid, speeches made, more hymns sung, and then we would return to our starting point once again.

When I was younger, in the cadets, we would grab something warm to eat and drink then talk to the veterans from The Great War, World War 2, and the Korean war. My town had quite a few veterans from all those wars still alive back in the mid 80's. Funny thing was, we weren't really told stories of the wars. They would be stories about companions and peccadilloes that they had gotten into, either here in Canada or in Great Britain. Very rarely would they talk about their actual war experiences. My grandfather was the same way. I never really understood why it was that way. I learned though, later in life why that was.

As I grew older and I joined the Reserves I got to learn more about why veterans wouldn't talk bluntly about their experiences. I did start to hear more gut wrenching tales at that time though. Usually it was after the veterans had a few drinks and started to loosen up a bit. The stories were never pretty. Tales of seeing friends die in front of them, tales of narrowly missed death, dark tales. Funny thing was, that never really put me off of serving. I was lucky, I never really had to serve in a hot zone of military action. I have served overseas as a peacekeeper and earned my piece of tin. My own circle of friends and soldiers have also served overseas, some in quiet areas, others in actual war zones. We are now the veterans that show up for parades.

Unfortunately as I have grown older and held down jobs, I have been unable to attend as many parades as I wish I could. Last year I was lucky and managed to attend the one in front of Old City Hall here in Toronto. The cenotaph there is impressive I believe. Not in style, not in expansiveness, but in simplicity.

So I arrived at the gathering at the appropriate time. Already people were gathered to pay their respects.

There were people that were currently serving wearing their uniforms, older people that had served wearing pieces of their kit like berets, cap badges, and medals, and other people that had, I guess, some connection. Always seems that way. Then again the Boomer generation all had at least one immediate family member that served in World War 2 in some capacity.

After several minutes had passed the parade arrived and started to form up in front of the cenotaph for the ceremony.

It was here that I felt like I had been punched in the gut. When the veterans arrived, there weren't that many. I remember back in my youth when the veterans would form at least two platoons with a colour guard. Remember that was in a small town with the population of 24,000 people. That was a lot of veterans. Here in Toronto I was expecting a few more. In the parade there was a colour guard and a small platoon of veterans. I realized at this point that soon they would no longer be with us and all their memories would pass on.

A typical ceremony will usually include the reading of "In Flanders Fields", a couple hymns(don't know the title) like "Our god our hope in ages past", at 1100 the moment of silence while a bugler will play taps with reveille at the end. Then the reading of the benediction, "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn, At the rising of the sun and the setting of the same we shall remember them". Forgive me if I have misquoted that, I have heard it so often that I try to recite it off the top of my head.

While the moment of silence was happening a flight of vintage aircraft flew over the downtown core, with one plane peeling off for the "missing man" formation. I am still moved thinking about it. I am always humbled every time I attend a ceremony.

I can't think of much more to say. I leave you with three items to see and ponder on. One is the song "A Pittance of Time", forgive me if I can't remember the name of the singer, and two photos from my grandfathers officer courses here in Ontario and in Quebec. I would love to get a list of people attending those courses and I have from time to time tried to research it on line. One day I will find them. So until next time, remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Trois Rivieres 1943A Coy no3 platoon 1941
Paladin Phil


  1. Just a wonderful tribute to, I'm afraid, days gone by.
    So many wonderful Canadian troops who served and are now, alas I fear, forgotten in the never ending quest for the 4,000 sq.ft. home, the granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances.
    How could so many GENERATIONS forget those who made or kept it possible: FREEDOM.

  2. Kenneth said...

    Thank you for sharing your recollections about what Remembrance Day means to you. I read recently that Canada's WWII vets are dying off very fast now, as they are all in their 80's or 90's. I pray they are never forgotten.