Monday, November 10, 2014

Remembering in 2014

Remembrance Day is even more poignant and solemn this year, thanks to our trip to France and Belgium this summer. We spent July 3rd on Vimy Ridge and in the tunnels and trenches around it, and we visited the In Flanders Fields Museum and the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres on July 11th. Our visits to these places made war more real to our girls -- and to us.

Perhaps what makes this year's observance of Remembrance Day most heart-rending is our conversation with Gaby, our dear friend who lives in present day Flanders. Lee recalled him telling a story the first time they met about how he had to guard a bridge during World War II. After our day in Ypres, I invited him to tell us about his memory of that time, but instead he told us about his father, who fought in the trenches right to the end of the first world war. Gaby said that even though the Armistice was signed on November 11th, 1918 at 11 a.m., the news did not reach his father's regiment until later in the day, just after his father's best friend died, one of the last military casualties in the trenches of World War I.

We sat in silence for a few moments after he told that story. How many others like it he could share, we'll probably never know.

War is the worst of human-made disasters. It is estimated that over 40 million military personnel died in the two world wars. They and soldiers from the many conflicts since are remembered every year at solemn ceremonies at different times of the year in different countries.

But who remembers the more than 62 million civilians who also died, some through military action, others through resulting incarceration, famine and disease? Not to mention the soldiers and civilians who were injured and traumatized to the point that they couldn't go on with normal life? And then there's the decimation of the lands where war was made... more than 65 years after the last world war, we could still see the remnants of shell holes and concrete bunkers in Northern France.

My many days of remembrance this year have me thinking more deeply about how war can never bring about true peace. Witness how Canada's going to war in the Middle East brought about the deaths of two servicemen here in the last few weeks. Since then, I've been thinking that, during our Remembrance Days, we should remember not only those who died in our wars, but also reflect on peace and our role in it.

Last year we attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at the University of Alberta, but this year, I plan to join the Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network in its prayer service and Public Prayer Walk for Peace. It starts at McDougall United Church (10025 101 Street) at 6 p.m. on Remembrance Day, well after the 11 a.m. moment of silence that we'll attend at our Legislature grounds.

And I also honour our war dead by posting these pictures from Vimy, Ypres and the Menin Gate. It was still summer daylight when we were there to observe the Last Post on July 11th, but it will be dark this time of year.

God bless all those who have died in war, and grant us peace.

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