Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
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
In Flanders fields.
~ John McCrae
“In Flanders Fields” is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.
It’s Remembrance Day tomorrow. Here in Canada we observe Remembrance Day every year on November 11th. Remembrance Day (sometimes known informally as Poppy Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919, the day is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in most countries to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”, in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. (“At the 11th hour” refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 am.) The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.
As part of our Baltic Cruise back in June of this year, one of our ports that Brenda and I visited was in Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country. Flanders fields are the World War I battlefields in an area straddling the Belgian provinces of West Flanders and East Flanders. The name Flanders fields is particularly associated with battles that took place in this region, and for most of the war, the front line ran continuously from south of Zeebrugge on the Belgian coast, across Flanders Fields into the centre of Northern France before moving eastwards — this was often referred to as the Western front.
I had no idea at the time that Flanders fields would be as moving for us as it was. Both Brenda and I had relatives who fought in both wars, including my maternal grandfather and several of Brenda’s relatives. The numbers are staggering. Ten million soldiers died in the war, along with seven million civilians. Some 619,636 Canadians enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the war, and approximately 424,000 served overseas. Of these men and women, 59,544 members of the CEF died during the war, with 51,748 of them as a result of enemy action. The small Royal Canadian Navy reported 150 deaths from all causes. No accurate tabulation exists for Canadians who served as volunteers in the Royal Navy or British Army. An additional 1,388 Canadians died while serving with the British Flying Services.
Of the more than 172,000 Canadians who reported wounds during the war, medical authorities classified approximately 138,000 as battle casualties. The rest was injuries suffered away from the war zone. Of the wounded who survived, 3,461 men and one woman had a limb amputated. No reliable method existed for tracking or treating psychological casualties, but authorities identified over 9,000 Canadians as suffering from “shell shock”, which of course is often thought of in present day terms as PTSD, but there are differences between the two. The term shell shock was coined in 1915 and was specific to the experiences of combat in the First World War to describe soldiers who were involuntarily shivering, crying, fearful, and had constant intrusions of memory, whereas the concept of PTSD has developed to be more wide-ranging. One of the main differences between the two is that shell shock was specific to the experiences of combat whereas the concept of PTSD has developed to be more wide-ranging.
An odd little story for all of you. Several years ago, and on the weekend before Remembrance Day, Brenda and I were traveling down to the US for a little shopping in Bellingham. As is the custom here in Canada, we had our Remembrance Day poppies on our jackets. and we were patiently waiting in the long line at the Peace Arch border crossing. This was during our pre-Nexus days, and so the wait was probably an hour or more. As we were waiting the requisite time to get through the long line of cars, there were a couple of CBP officers with a sniffer dog who were crisscrossing from vehicle to vehicle in the line, checking for illicit drugs and such. It was a gorgeous November day, and I rolled down the front windows in the car as they approached. I always roll down the windows when we approach the border patrol booth when we approach the border so the CBP can see unencumbered into the vehicle, and this time was no different. The officer with the dog approached so the dog could have a sniff around our vehicle, which he did, and then they carried on. The second officer had been hanging back just a bit, and as he walked past the open front window on Brenda’s side, he noticed the poppy on her jacket and asked why she was wearing it on the breast of her jacket. Brenda gave him a brief explanation of the meaning of Remembrance Day and the significance of the poppy to November 11th. The officer remarked that this was similar to Veterans day in the US. I remember at the time thinking that it was rather nice of him to ask, but it was really odd when he uttered the next words out of his mouth. He thought the red poppy was a “target.” Sad really, isn’t it?
Remembrance Day holds a new and special meaning for me now after visiting Flanders fields this past June. Brenda too. We all need to be respectful of the ultimate price that the soldiers of all countries have paid in war. Remembrance Day is considered a federal statutory holiday – with a notable exception of NS, NWT, ON and QC. Remembrance Day is still not a national legal holiday in Canada in 2018. Bill C-597 was intended to make Remembrance Day a national legal holiday. The intent of the enactment was to amend the Holidays Act to make Remembrance Day a legal holiday and give it the same status as Canada Day here in Canada. It received a third reading on June 19th, 2015 in Parliament, but it did not pass and therefore did not become law. Do you think it should be a national legal holiday here in Canada? I most certainly do.
Until next time …