As a long time scout, I remember dutifully attending Remembrance Sunday services in the UK as a kid, and being told off for sniggering as The Last Post was rendered almost unrecognisable by some poor kid with lips frozen to his bugle.
When we moved to Canada, I was slightly taken aback with how much more respect is paid here in BC. It was almost as if the UK was apologetic for having to remember. The only attendees at the cenotaph in the UK would be the scouts and guides and maybe the local city Councillors. Maybe a couple of parents, but certainly not a big thing.
Here in White Rock, the entire town turns out to watch. The ceremony is on the 11th – no matter what day of the week it falls. Not on the nearest Sunday as in the UK. The parade includes the local air and sea cadets, the RCMP, the fire service and representatives from all the various scout and guide groups in the town. There’s even a fly-past from the local flying club, and it’s definitely “a big thing”. It never fails to leave me feeling humbled.
WWII started as a European thing. Britain couldn’t NOT get involved. But Canada? Canada could very definitely have kept itself to itself and let things on the other side of the world play out. The US in fact did just that for about three years. I read a review of a Canadian TV series called “Bomb Girls” about munitions workers in WWII. Apparently US viewers were confused because Pearl Harbor was the big story item in the last episode of the first series. It would seem that some US viewers had no idea the war had been raging for years before then.
Thankfully they did enter though – Britain (even with the amazing support of its dwindling empire) was on its last legs. They were showing “The Battle of Britain” film on TV this afternoon. There’s a classic line from Sir Lawrence Olivier as Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, when he’s being pressed to verify the astonishing figures of the number of bombers being downed by the struggling RAF in October 1940:
“I’m not very interested in propaganda. If we’re right, they’ll give up. If we are wrong, they’ll be in London in a week!.” Incidentally there were 112 Canadian pilots helping in the Battle of Britain… as well at 7 Americans. Despite the US still being neutral at that point. They were all part of “the few” referred to in Churchill’s famous speech.
It’s usually a cool day. Rainy often. Occasionally windy – I remember one year the wreaths were continually blowing over. But today it snowed. Only a little, but enough to remind people of the discomforts weather can bring.
I have been to Flanders. To Ieper/Ypres (depending on whether you’re a Flemish or French speaking Belgian). I’ve seen the Menin Gate and been astonished at the thousands of carved names. Then astonished afresh to learn that this seemingly endless register of lives lost records only the brave souls whose final resting place is not known. I have seen the traffic stopped at 8pm – every day since 1918 except briefly during WWII – and heard the Last Post played by the local Fire Service and the second stanza of Ode of Remembrance read.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them