Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Remembrance

Before I begin today, given the time of year, I thought I'd pass along three selections of music entirely appropriate for tomorrow.

The first link has the Metis fiddler Sierra Noble giving an achingly beautiful performance of The Warrior's Lament at the Vimy Ridge Monument Re-Dedication in 2007.

The second is from the soundtrack for Passchendaele, a song called After The War by Sarah Slean.

And the last is a concert version of the majestic Hymn To The Fallen, by the great John Williams, for the Saving Private Ryan soundtrack.

Tomorrow, in places across the world, people will come together at cenotaphs and monuments at the eleventh hour for a yearly commemoration. November 11th carries with it several names. The British call it Armistice Day. The Americans call it Veteran's Day. And here in Canada and other Commonwealth affiliated nations, it carries the title Remembrance Day. Each year, a dwindling number of veterans of the Second World War march together with their comrades from later wars and service Each year, it seems, the crowds grow larger. And each year, more veterans pass away, joining those of their brethren who have gone on before them.

We mark the day to commemorate the ending of the First World War, of course, and the memory of the veterans who have fought in the wars that have followed. On November 11th, 1918, an armistice was signed that took effect at eleven in the morning, ending four years of bloody conflict that had taken the lives, seemingly, of an entire generation. It was a war that had saw massive casualties, trench warfare, and outdated tactics against machine guns and new weaponry at places like the Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele, Gallipoli, Amiens, Mons, and Vimy Ridge. For my country, it was the event that made the nation a reality, much like the Civil War truly forged the United States into one nation. Hundreds of thousands of young Canadians went off and fought in the Great War. Many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice and remained behind, buried in the fields of Europe.


Vimy Ridge
Vimy Ridge
The Menin Gate

Of course, the War to end all Wars wasn't the end. Out of the ashes came the circumstances of the Second World War. To borrow a phrase, though there is no such thing as a good war,  there are wars that are nessecary wars, because the alternative is far worse. Never was this more true then in the struggle against Nazi Germany, Italy, Japan, and their allies. In battles that spread across the world, from Midway, Guam, Okinawa, and Hong Kong in the Pacific to the Battle of Britain, El Alamein, Sicily, Italy, Stalingrad, Leningrad, Normandy, and the final drive into Germany, it was the darkest hour humanity has ever faced. And in the end, the darkness was turned back, by the sacrifice, determination, and drive of what really is the greatest generation, young men who stood up to the greatest force of evil that has ever walked this planet, and brought it to an end.
Juno Beach, Normandy

Juno Beach, June 1944
Gold Beach
Utah Beach

The USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor
World War Two Memorial, Washington

The Motherland, Volgograd, Russia
Plymouth Naval Memorial, Great Britain

Plymouth, Great Britain


Admittedly, I have good cause to be grateful to the veterans of the Second World War. You see, I wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for those young men, some of whom have lived to be old men. During the war, my grandparents were in the occupied Netherlands. From the stories they told, it was obvious that if the war had gone on a few more months, the families would have died of starvation. I quite literally owe my life to veterans of the Second World War. And so each year I attend Remembrance Day ceremonies at our national war memorial. I know the words that will be said. I'll see the laying of wreaths and the march of the veterans who gave so much of themselves, and who remember the young men who never got a chance to have a life for themselves. And I'll go to our war museum, to walk in the path of my country's military history.

National War Memorial, Ottawa

Take time to reflect tomorrow. If you can get to a cenotaph, do so. Remind yourself that you owe your freedom to these men. Remember them, and how much they gave for us. 

Jefferson Barracks Cemetery, St. Louis

Arlington, Virginia

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, England

I leave you then, with the eloquent words of John McCrae, a Canadian soldier who died during the Great War, but not before he penned these words for the ages, In Flanders Fields....


  1. You've done a beautiful job on this. It's good that you never forget that these brave soldiers made it possible for you to be born, and I am so grateful for that, my friend.

    My dad was in the Army during World War II. I had three uncles who were Navy men, each on different ships when the flag was raised on Iwo Jima. My grandfather served in World War I and I have cousins who were in Vietnam, as well as one I never knew who was killed in Korea.

    Thank you.

  2. I have an uncle buried in Arlington. Beautiful photos.

  3. The Menin Gate and Vimy Ridge pics are stunning. I'll have to try and dig up memorial photos that I haven't already posted.
    Wonderful post!

  4. Normandy, Vimy, Passchendaele, and the Menin Gate are places in Europe that I have to visit when I first go there.

  5. Beautiful, William! I have tears in my eyes. My father was on Iwo Jima; my husband was in Vietnam (Silver Star awarded); and too many friends are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I've visited Ypres, Mons, Gallipoli, and Verdun. The monument at Verdun sits above a charnel 'house', with the bones of over one million resting there - and over 80% of bodies were returned to home countries. The enormity of sacrifices made stiffens one's backbone to be a better person and not let them down (as do the other monuments.)

    The beach and steep cliff at Gallipoli and the courage required to land are beyond my humble ability to to express - The Turks were so impressed with Anzak courage, the open field at the top of the cliff is the only place in Turkey with a huge Christian cross atop any building, and this cross is above the memorial chapel. Granite walls that ring the chapel are inscribed with quotation from Turks attesting to the bravery of the men who landed and died that day. The beach has been ceded to the people of Australian and New Zealand.

    From the heart, thank you for this wonderful post. I fear that too many have forgotten (or don't care) about enormous sacrifices made to ensure today's lifestyles. Bless you!

  6. I'm actually one of those few Canadians that doesn't have any relatives (that I know of) that fought in any of the wars. However, that doesn't mean I don't care. No, I don't walk to the local cenotaph and pay my respects, and I've actually only gone to once to the bridge on the Highway of Heroes to see a fallen soldier return...but, I do respect their bravery and courage. It's something I wouldn't be able to do...I'm glad they can. Thankfully some of the schools still offer assembly's regarding Remembrance Day...some don't.

  7. Excellent post. My grandfather served in WW2, working his way across Europe as one of the soldiers responsible for identifying and burying the dead. He didn't talk about it much.

    On an unrelated note, one of your links led me to spend half an hour or so going through John Williams music on UTube.

  8. My Uncle was shot down over Korea and was declared missing in action. I feel for those who never knew for sure what happened to their loved ones.

  9. Meaningful post. My dad served during World War 2, as did my uncles. Tough stuff.

  10. Beautiful, William. I always am grateful for our men and women in service, past and present.

  11. Thank you for a most beautiful post to commmemorate and to pay tribute to the fallen, the veterans and to those still serving. Take care

  12. Freedom ain't free. This is an awesome post.

  13. @Kittie: Verdun and Gallipoli are also places I have to see for myself. And the Italian peninsula, to see the World War Two battle sites.

  14. @Mark: listening to John Williams is one of life's great pleasures!

    @everyone: You're welcome. It was good to write this one.

  15. My family knew a man who died recently, in his 90s. He was a veteran of the war, but not in the way you might expect. He served in the Dutch resistance through the war, running in operations, and only started being open about it in the last few years of his life.

  16. Excellent selections, William. Sorry I'm a little late getting to them. On the WWII trip I took with my daughter's high school, ( we stopped at Verdun on our way to Paris from Germany. It was quite impressive. We went to Dachau, and the beaches of Normandy. I think we may have gone to the museum you have a photo of - is that the Peace Museum in Caen?

    Impressive trip, in many ways. Thanks for the reminders of all that is owed.


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