" Mr. Straker."
" You can fall the men out for breakfast. The war is over."
" Very good, sir."
-- Lt Col. F. Lushington; quoted in Guy Chapman, OBE, MC (Ed.), Vain Glory: A Miscellany of the Great War 1914-1918
In a country such as Canada, Remembrance Day is inculcated in us from an early age -- following a specific narrative, a certain tone, a gravity and sense of occasion apparent even to the very young in school assemblies. We wore poppies, were instructed in the meaning of them, and were shown grainy black and white pictures of soldiers -- long ago and far away -- who, we were told, fought for us so that we could be free. We recited the John McCrae poem "In Flanders Fields," which I remember verbatim to this day. Even at such a precocious age, when such sweeping narratives are a bit hard to grasp, we held at least a modicum of understanding of what it meant to be free and knew that previous generations had bequeathed a great deal to us.
As we grow older we realize that war(s), past and present, and occasions such as Remembrance Day combine complex emotions. It is not a celebratory occasion, but rather one that mingles sorrow and gratitude for all that we enjoy. Remembrance Day comes to evoke emotions beyond war and soldiering. As we see the now thinning ranks of the great generation of the Second World War veterans, we are reminded that we, too, wither as the grass -- though most of us will never set foot on the battlefield. We think of our own elders who have left us, and the civilization they left us with. I am, and I hope most people are, proud of our heritage and desirous that we too will see it preserved for subsequent generations. And hopeful that we may also find the courage to make changes as necessary, and to understand that freedom -- the freedom for which so many paid the ultimate sacrifice -- evolves. To paraphrase John Bunyan, we hope that we may give our swords (figurative or literal) to those who will succeed us in our pilgrimage.*
*"My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it." --John Bunyan. This inscription is inlaid in stone at the entrance of the gardens at Christ Church College, Oxford.