The importance of anniversaries

July 6, 2017 by Legion Magazine
Hill 70 Memorial in the tiny hamlet of Mountain, Ont.

This issue of Legion Magazine is filled with stories acknowledging anniversaries: Canada’s 150th, Vimy’s 100th, Hill 70’s 100th, Dieppe’s 75th. And, as in every issue, members of The Royal Canadian Legion who have served the organization for 60, 65 and 70 years are recognized on the Honours and Awards page. Each issue also contains a two-page spread aptly titled “On this date.”

2017 is a rich year when it comes to anniversaries, Canadian and military: a century and a half since Confederation, when the colony became a dominion; a century since Vimy and Hill 70, when our soldiers achieved what the French and British could not; and three-quarters of a century since the raid on Dieppe, one of our darkest military moments. This issue recognizes all of those, and more.

Like cenotaphs, anniversaries are pivot points around which memories cluster, on which life-changing and direction-shifting events are recorded and remembered. They help us contend with the passage of time.

Remembrance and celebration of milestones in military history are invariably tied to a single date: the day a conflict started; key days in a battle sequence, and of course, the day on which hostilities ended or peace treaties started. April 9, July 1, August 19, September 11, November 11—these dates evoke sombre or celebratory or distressing sentiments, and they serve to ensure that our collective memory does not fail those who fell, achieved or suffered.

Military anniversaries marking victories are bittersweet, tempered by the sadness of the sacrifice, the glory of triumph darkened by the vileness of war. Fittingly, the ceremonies on April 9—early morning at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and late afternoon on the ridge itself—were sombre…and just a little bit celebratory.

Depending on when you read this, all of Canada will be preparing for, or recovering from, a huge nationwide party, a fully completely celebratory day. Canada Day, after all, is our most important anniversary, and this is a big one. Once it’s over, though, keep in mind that other anniversaries are imminent: people will cluster around memorials at a modest park (below) in the tiny hamlet of Mountain, Ont., on Aug. 15, and on chert-laden Red Beach at Dieppe, France, on Aug. 19. May this issue make a modest contribution to those expressions of our collective memory.

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