The changing face of Remembrance Day

Bryan Adams “Remembrance Day” captures the heart of Canada’s war effort where the boys from Kingston and Brighton followed the promise of glory, leaving the farm lands for king and country.

I have visited the trench warfare sculpture in our National War Museum, and as depicted in so many movies, it was a slice of hell. “If I can just hold on 'til this bloody war is over” Adams sings. “The guns will be silent on Remembrance Day / There'll be no more fighting on Remembrance Day.”

“One day soon - I don't know when / You know we'll all be free and the bells of peace will ring again” the song echoes. 

“The guns will be silent on Remembrance Day 
We'll all say a prayer on Remembrance Day” the song concludes. 

I remember as a student in a Russian-German community how we sang songs about allied Polish soldiers. A beautiful young housewife weeps all day in her beautiful home, waiting for her soldier to return. “Do not weep,” the song echoes.

We experienced Remembrance at the cultural level where we became aware of nations and politics and suffering. Twenty some million Russians died in World War II, seven million were civilians.

Always we remembered and prayed for the soldiers and read Maccabees, where offerings were made for dead warriors. We understood the Communion of Saints and how we on earth help pray for those in Purgatory. “No greater love has a person than to lay down your life for others.”

Remembrance was with me through thirty-five years as a teacher organizing programs and bringing in veterans to share their stories. Military fly-bys and Cadet marches in the cold November from cenotaph to church for prayer, scripture and more stories to share.

Remembrance as a senior has me pausing to reflect on what is essential. Studying history may help us avoid its pitfalls. Remembering fills us with gratitude. Gratitude for the heroes who gave their lives so that we have the freedom to congregate and remember.

“Flanders Field” refreshes our memory each year. The droning of planes and the crackle of jets, and the red poppies, touch our senses as flowers and tears remind us of our loss of loved ones in the theater of war.

And war does go on. That is why we remember the wars of our new century: Congo, Syria, Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Boko Haram, Yemen and Ukraine. Remembrance demands the will to educate, the will to change and the will to pray. 

Will our grandchildren remember the holocaust? Viet Nam? Korea? Do they need to hear about Canada’s part in the Boer War? The World Wars? Or more recently Canada’s peace keeping in: Afghanistan, Kosova, Bosnia, Sierre Leone, South Africa and Central America among others.

There is much to remember! That is why we meet with our veterans to share soup, sandwiches and stories. That is why we ponder in silence and pray aloud. LEST WE FORGET!

Lord we pray for peace-makers and peace-keepers who help keep the world secure; we pray for political, military and religious men and women who have the privilege of leadership; and we pray for our neighbours and ourselves in the one human family. Amen.

(541 words)

By Ken Rolheiser