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Remembrance Day: On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians pause in memory of and gratitude to the tens of thousands of men and women who have sacrificed their lives in military service. A red poppy on the lapel is the symbol of that remembrance.
The first poppies were distributed in Canada in 1921. This practice was inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian Lt.-Col. John McCraeDuring WWI at the Battle of Ypres in 1915. The poem was inspired by his view of poppies growing beside a grave of a close friend who had died in battle. The poem inspired not only Canada, but also other countries such as the United States, France and Britain to adopt the poppy as the flower of remembrance and continues to remind us of the unimaginable experiences and death of so many who were so young.
Today, the volunteer donations from the distribution of millions of poppies go toward supporting ex-servicemen and women.
In June of 2013, my husband, son and I took a trip to Normandy in France to visit the sites of the D-day landings in WWII as well as visiting Vimy Ridge, near the Belgian border, which was the site of a definitive battle in Canada’s history, and is widely acknowledged to have been the making of us as a country. The photo above is the memorial to the fallen Canadians.
Under heavy cloud cover, drizzle and a cold wind, we were the only people in the cemetary, and as we knelt in front of the graves to honour the fallen boys, so many 18 or 19 years old, we wept for the fact that they had barely started to live before they were cruelly ripped from the ones who loved them.
At the base of one of the grave stones, someone had left a laminated copy of the famous poem In Flanders Fields, which was a poignant voice from beyond.
One of the most sobering moments, was touring the underground bunkers and tunnels where soldiers spent days and weeks in mud and water, with rats, the dead, meagre rations and bombs exploding constantly overhead. We could feel the wind blowing through the tunnels and in the gloom it was hard to imagine being trapped there for days and weeks at a time.
Watch the snippet of video going down into the tunnel: The tunnel at Vimy Ridge
An officer’s sleeping alcove under the Front in one of the tunnels. The green stone proves how damp this place remains today.
The trenches at the front have been recreated with concrete blocks which represent what would have been sandbags. The trenches take many sharp, right angle turns, so enemy bombs would cause the least amount of damage and fewest casualties.
This pastoral scene is the actual battlefield of Vimy Ridge. The undulating ground is the result of bombs having created the craters. All around the area, there are still unexploded mines underground, which is why the sheep are grazing to keep the grass cut short. Metal blades on a mower would cause a potential hazard of explosions. And now, almost 100 years later, each summer a farmer in a surrounding field hits a buried landmine in a farm vehicle causing severe casualties, trauma and even death.
It was one of the most moving trips I’ve ever taken and one I will never forget. And as a result, each November 11th at 11:00 am, I will take a moment and bow my head in gratitude to those who, through no fault of their own, were slaughtered in the cause of the freedom that I will never again take for granted.
Please join me in remembering them this morning.