Lest We Forget

In Canada we honour Remembrance Day on November 11.For the entire month we wear the poppy pins sold by veterans’ associations, on the 11th the entire nation stops everything  and stands for two minutes of silence at 11AM, there are veterans’ parades and the laying of wreaths at every town memorial, the reading of the Canadian poem by John McCrae, In Flanders Fields, prayers, and the playing of the last post.

I already wrote in my blog June 17 about my own father’s service in the RCAF, and about the book A Gathering of Saints . There are more family stories, of course… about my grandfather who lied about his age to join the RAF before Canada had its own airforce, about the three spinster great aunts who all lost their beaux in the bloodbath of WWI and lived crabbed and unhappy lives.

Now I care for the last friend of my deceased mother, a 98 year-old who lost her husband in Holland at the very end of WWII and has never got over the bitter shock and misery of being denied the home and family they had planned together… she is still very, very bitter, very, very angry… a wounded and mournful reminder of the sacrifices made at that time.

As a teacher, Remembrance Day was always marked by the ASSEMBLY!

In high schools the drama class would have the opportunity to do something terribly artsy… but meaningful and dignified: to emote and form tableaux, to experiment with strange sets and shadowy lighting, to revel in their half hour of earnest celebrity. There was also, of course, the school band to play.

In middle school, the grade eight teachers would be delegated to organize a meaningful, respectful, educational event for the whole school. A member of the legion would attend, a member of the armed forces, a local political representative, someone from the school board, and a local minister. All of them would be introduced and many of them spoke. Sometimes there were slides.   Usually there was a teenage bugler to struggle gamefully through “The Last Post.” We sang both anthems… both badly as they are not pitched for children’s voices… and several hymns.

In primary-junior school Remembrance Assembly always came after morning recess… so that the two minutes of silence could occur right at 11:00. It was always preceded by the distribution of hundreds of poppies, each with a straight pin. Adult elements were edited out and remembrance day songs were introduced that children could sing and supposedly understand.  They knew they were supposed to sit quietly, to stand silently, and above all, not to use those pins except to fasten the poppies to their t-shirts! They knew, because they had been told!

Some how Remembrance Day never really lived up to what it was supposed to accomplish. How could it ever? I was always relieved when it was over!

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