The stories are written on the faces, but mostly in the knowing expressions of those who “were there.” They are found in the eyes of the wounded and with loved ones bereaved by war.
For most Canadians, Remembrance Day brings forth a concurrence of thought—an unending braid that wraps the highly personal memories of service and sacrifice with a nation’s collective will never to forget.
With a stubborn November wind bringing chill to downtown streets, more than 20,000 turned out in the nation’s capital to remember, and to say thank you to those who served and are serving their country. Many came to the national Remembrance Day ceremony with photographs and the framed medals of loved ones. Others came with flowers and signs that read: “Thank You,” “We Love You” and “We Remember.”
It was one of the largest outpourings of gratitude Ottawa has ever seen; a solemn and respectful celebration of service and sacrifice that was mirrored across the land with record crowds in many towns and cities and with equal reverence overseas where Canadian military personnel are deployed. “To remember is to be grateful. To be grateful is to give thanks,” offered Rabbi Reuven Bulka, Honorary Chaplain of the Legion’s Dominion Command.
More than 116,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors, airmen and merchant mariners have laid down their lives for Canada in times of war and peace. From the earliest days of our history, Canada has been shaped by service and sacrifice. “In these conflicts we acknowledge the devastating loss of life that has formed the foundation of our nationhood,” said Brigadier-General Karl McLean, Chaplain General to the Canadian Forces and Honorary Chaplain of the Legion’s Dominion Command. “We acknowledge…their sacrifice and suffering to a hurting and sometimes ungrateful world. May we never forget those who have gone before us, paving the way to a world of greater freedom, more lasting justice and a more profound peace.”
Throughout the ceremony, four sentries and a sentinel assumed a vigil around the National War Memorial, hands resting on arms reversed, heads bowed in reverence. Facing the memorial was the viceregal party of Governor General David Johnston and his wife Sharon; Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Marjory LeBreton, representing the Prime Minister; the 2012 National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother Roxanne Marie Priede and her husband John; Chief of Defence Staff General Thomas Lawson; Speaker of the Senate Noël Kinsella; Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney and Gordon Moore, Dominion President of The Royal Canadian Legion.
The viceregal party also included representatives of Canada’s youth, namely the senior winners of the Legion’s national Poster and Literary Contests—Sienna (Jeong Eun) Cho of Burnaby, B.C., Owen Brown of Guelph, Ont., Amelia Haines of Peel, N.B., and Allison Somers of Carbonear, Nfld. Delivering wreaths to the viceregal party were the Legion’s top cadets of the year: sea cadet Chief Petty Officer Second Class Beth-Anne Bruce of Tofield, Alta.; army cadet Master Warrant Officer Julie Rose LeBlanc of Moncton, N.B. and air cadet Flight Corporal Alexander Mahtab of Halifax.
The rain that fell earlier in the day did not dampen the resolve to remember, nor did it affect the voices of the Ottawa Children’s Choir. Resplendent in red, the choir began the formal ceremony with O Canada. This was followed by Last Post, and the first gun—fired by the 30th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery—signalling the beginning of the silence. To the north—above Parliament Hill—the clock in the Peace Tower tolled 11 times, followed by the firing of the second gun. “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,” said Dominion President Gordon Moore, reciting the Act of Remembrance. “Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” The act was then read in French by Legion Grand President Larry Murray and in the Maliseet language by Eldon J. Bernard of the Maliseet Nation at Tobique, N.B.
The Governor General placed a wreath on behalf of the people of Canada, followed by the Silver Cross Mother who placed one on behalf of all Canadian mothers who have lost sons or daughters serving in the military or merchant navy. Her son, Master Corporal Darrell Jason Priede was killed May 30, 2007, when the Chinook helicopter he was in crashed over Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The 30-year-old and his wife Angela had recently marked their fourth wedding anniversary.
The remaining members of the viceregal party also placed wreaths, including the Legion Dominion President and the four youth representatives. Dozens of other wreaths were placed against the memorial by members of the Diplomatic Corps, veterans’ organizations, associations and the public. Later, amid resounding applause, the veterans, troops and cadets marched past the Governor General and Silver Cross Mother.
It was a proud conclusion to a unifying ceremony that also benefited greatly from the participation of the Central Band of the Canadian Forces; the Royal Military College of Canada; two CF-18s from 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron performing a flypast; Air Command Pipes and Drums; Governor General’s Foot Guards; Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa; Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the Army, Navy and Air cadet leagues of Canada; Junior Canadian Rangers; Dominion Carillonneur Dr. Andrea McCrady and musician Terry Kelly who wrote the remembrance song, A Pittance of Time.
There was also something new: The Royal Canadian Legion Virtual Wall of Honour and Remembrance, combining Kelly’s music, the voices of the children’s choir and hundreds of photographs of service personnel submitted by Canadian families. A day earlier, the Legion hosted VIP tours of the Parliament Buildings and the Canadian War Museum, held a wreath-placing rehearsal at the memorial and a luncheon in the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel where it honoured the Silver Cross Mother, the youth representatives, and the top cadets among others.
In the Memorial Chamber on Parliament Hill, the Silver Cross Mother and her husband stared down through silence at the name of their son in the Seventh Book of Remembrance. She later described him as “always happy—a young man who grew up loving the outdoors.” She said she was very proud that he wanted to serve his country, and that Remembrance Day is a horrible day in a lot of ways, but it is also such an honourable day—such a proud day for her. “I am stuck right between the two. It is really hard, but it is also really good.”
Email the writer at: email@example.com
Email a letter to the editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org