Remembrance Day - One For TwoThursday, November 06, 2014
The more this century stretches towards a future in which not too far off, It will not include me in it, I find myself thinking more and more as a creature of the 20th century. This is obvious as I still look up to the sky when I hear an airplane. Flying, a magic act, was so in the 20th. Now it means the problem of dealing with carry-on luggage.
Today my granddaughter was complaining that in her school the students prepared a Remembrance Day ceremony that was “truly awful” I am amending this from what she actually said. The principal reason had to do with the fact that one of the students read “that red poppy thing”.
As an Argentine-born Canadian my knowledge of Canadian history is a tad slim but I did read Pierre Berton’s Vimy Ridge in which he argued (favourably for me) that Canada became a country as a result of that battle. It unified Canadians.
My granddaughter was partially right when she told me that General Sir Arthur William Curry (born in Strathroy, Ontario, 1875, was the commander at Vimy Ridge. She was wrong in telling me that his predecessor was a terrible British general who used his soldiers as cannon fodder. Curry’s predecessor was the English born, Wrotham Park, 1862, Field Marshal Julian Hedworth George Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy GCB GCMG MVO.
This ignorant Canadian did not know the significance of the poem that my granddaughter was so tired of listening to. I looked it up and found that it was a poem by a live Canadian soldier John McCrea written to honour a fallen comrade from his regiment. I found the story here.
During the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres a young Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2nd May, 1915 in the gun positions near Ypres. An exploding German artillery shell landed near him. He was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as a friend of his, the Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.
As the brigade doctor, John McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis because the chaplain had been called away somewhere else on duty that evening. It is believed that later that evening, after the burial, John began the draft for his now famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.
I had a short chat with my granddaughter about the above and then gave her to peruse, my copy of Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia with two pages marked by a blank paper. The two pages so marked were on the page on Siegfried Sassoon and the other on Wilfred Owen.
I can only hope that curiosity might just work the way it should.
I then told both my wife and granddaughter the special significance of Remembrance Day’s date. Few, particularly those born in this century or close to it in the other know of such a thing as an Armistice on November 11, at 11am (Paris time) 1918. In fact my granddaughter thought it to be the armistice for WWII. Few know even understand that WWII did not end with D-Day or with Victory in Europe (V-E Day) on May 8, 1945, but ended with the two atom bombs in Japan which signalled V-J Day and that was celebrated on August 15 1945.
I did not end it all there as I told them that Remembrance Day celebrates Canadian soldiers, those that died, and those that are live veterans including soldiers who have fought in Afghanistan. The Americans are different in that they have a day for the fallen, Memorial Day (celebrated on the last Monday of May) and one for the living, Veteran’s day on November 11.