Blood red poppies

Remembrance Day

Every year, as October transitions into November, I go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11. It is a tradition in my family and across Canada to append the crimson flower to our lapel as a reminder of the bloody sacrifices made a century ago.

I also wear it to honour my great-grandfather Francis Sowden, who came home from the Great War, unlike so many others, including siblings on my great-grandmother’s side who are sadly just names without faces to me so many years later.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

I am one of few in my generation to have known Francis Sowden.

Recently, I have heard people complain that the commemorative symbol of the poppy has been co-opted by those who want to hail it as a symbol of the glory of serving in the military, if not actually the glory of war itself. This bothers me.

I greatly thank all those who have, do and will serve in the military both in Canada and abroad, many risking their lives to keep others safe. Although I was an unthinking idiot in my youth, I have learned that these people, while frail humans, are noble titans who see conflict as a last resort.

For all that nobility, however, the poppy must remain a separate symbol.

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

A painting from the Royal Ontario Museum that haunts my dreams. (sadly, I cannot remember artist)

The poppy reminds us of the horrific toll of war. It is a crimson stain upon our lapels that taints us all and reminds us of the fragility of the peace that surrounds us. The bloody hue taunts our civilized smugness with a warning of how easily we can fall into the pit of violence, whether as individuals, communities or countries.

While we wear the blood red poppy to honour the fallen of World War I, we also wear it as a badge of shame that the war ever took place, and that the war to end all wars wasn’t.

This dual purpose must never be diminished. We must strive to be better.

And next year, as October transitions into November, I will go in search of a new red poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day on November 11.

I will never forget.

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

A cemetery near my home reminds me of the sacrifices

Bloodied remembrance

Flag soldiers

I have no room for anger or hatred in my life, but I find myself perplexed, frustrated and saddened by the events of this past week that saw three men, three soldiers killed or wounded. And all of the efforts to understand or explain the reasoning of the two perpetrators, both killed, do nothing to assuage these feelings.

The two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal in Quebec, were crossing a parking lot in front of a recruitment centre when they were run over by their assailant. One of the men wasn’t even in uniform.

And in a messed up irony that could only accompany a death, the third soldier in Ottawa was standing guard over a war memorial to his fallen predecessors. His only defence from the gun man that took his life? An unloaded gun pointed at the ground out of remembrance and reverence to The Unknown Soldier.

For soldiers to fall in battle or in zones of conflict is painful, but somehow more acceptable as a known risk. For men to die while pursuing peaceful administrative activities or activities of honour is simply unfathomable.

While I am not yet ready to weep for the deaths of the two murderers, I mourn for their families and their communities, who have suffered losses as well. Without more information, I cannot blame anyone other than he who drove the car, he who pulled the trigger.

But even as I grieve, even as I question, I take heart and solace in the arms of my community. The people of Canada have not cornered the market in fortitude and endurance, but we are strong. And in times like this, times that matter most, we speak with one voice, we grieve with one heart and we love with one soul.

Despite the pain of our loss, we only grow stronger when events like this happen. And when faced with the uncertainty and fear of these events, that strength, that resolve will keep us whole, will keep us secure.

The coming Remembrance Day will be a touch sadder this year because the poppies will be more bloodied and the graves they mark will be a little fresher.

Peace.

 

Only the names of the deceased officers have been released: Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24 (left, above), and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53.

soldier_andfield_of_poppies

Lest we forget: Thanking the fallen

Remembrance Day Poppy

On November 11th in Canada, we take a moment out of our day at 11am to remember those who have fallen in war to define and defend our rights and freedoms as a nation and a people. We call it Remembrance Day and in the British tradition, we symbolize it with a poppy.

I am of the fortunate age that while I never had to experience the terror of war myself, I am old enough to have spoken with many of my family members who have served in the Canadian military both in times of war and in times of peace.

My great grandfather Francis Sowden served in the First World War, the war whose Armistice Day we commemorate. My grandfather Allan Eby served in the Second World War as part of the Canadian forces that invaded Italy and freed the region from Nazi occupation. Similarly, my great uncles served in the military, one making it his career.

Each man had his own experiences. Each man could relate his own stories.

I remember fondly, when I grew old enough to understand, listening to my grandfather relate his experiences; in some ways, his greatest days and in others, his worst. In his own gentle way, he taught a brash young know-it-all with all the answers on the failure of war a thing or two about life and the need to defend freedom when called upon.

Beloved and missed

As I visited my grandparents’ gravesite the other day, I came upon the graves of several other soldiers, their tombstones clearly marked, their ranks smartly inscribed. And I stopped for a moment to thank them for their sacrifices.

It was only then that I noticed a monument atop a hill, something I had never seen before, that paid homage to the fallen. A soldier with bowed head. Very humbling.

To the men and women who sacrificed everything for my home, I thank you.

To the men and women who served bravely or waited nervously for family members to return home, I thank you.

To my friends who continue to serve for Canada or any other country, I thank you.

As long as I am alive, your story will not go unheard or unremembered.