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How Do We Remember?

First World War Veteran at base of Vimy Memorial where 11,285 names are inscribed in the stone.

On November 11, especially, but also throughout the year, we have the opportunity to remember the efforts of these special Canadians. In remembering, we pay homage to those who respond to their country's needs. On November 11, we pause for two minutes of silent tribute, and we attend commemorative ceremonies in memory of our war dead.

Following the First World War a French woman, Madame E. Guérin, suggested to British Field-Marshall Earl Haig that women and children in devastated areas of France could produce poppies for sale to support wounded Veterans. The first of these poppies were distributed in Canada in November of 1921, and the tradition has continued ever since, both here and in many parts of the world.

Poppies are worn as the symbol of remembrance, a reminder of the blood-red flower that still grows on the former battlefields of France and Belgium. During the terrible bloodshed of the second Battle of Ypres in the spring of 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, wrote of these flowers which lived on among the graves of dead soldiers:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
John McCrae 11

The flowers and the larks serve as reminders of nature's ability to withstand the destructive elements of war by men, a symbol of hope in a period of human despair. In Canada, traditionally the poppies which we wear were made by disabled Veterans. They are reminders of those who died while fighting for peace: we wear them as reminders of the horrors of conflict and the preciousness of the peace they fought hard to achieve.

The National War Memorial, Ottawa.

The two minutes of silence provide another significant way of remembering wartime while thinking of peace. Two minutes are scarcely enough time for thought and reflection. As we pause and bow our heads, we remember those brave men and women who courageously volunteered for the cause of freedom and peace.

For those who lived through these wars, remembering means thinking of comrades. It evokes memories of men and women who never returned home. Those born after the wars might picture the youthful soldiers who eagerly joined up from high schools, businesses and farms across the country, only to meet death while fighting against the enemy. They may imagine the anguish of a man leaving a new wife, a young family, an elderly mother. The important thing for all of us to remember is that they fought to preserve a way of life, Canadian values, and the freedom we enjoy today and often take for granted. Remember that the silence is to honour their sacrifice and memory.

There are memorials to commemorate the service of Canadian troops in Canada and overseas. The National War Memorial in Ottawa was originally designed to recognize those who served in the First World War. It has been rededicated to symbolize the sacrifice made by Canadians in the Second World War, in Korea, and in subsequent peacekeeping missions. The National War Memorial symbolizes the unstinting and courageous way Canadians give their service when values they believe in are threatened. Advancing together through a large archway are figures representing the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have answered the call to serve; at the top of the arch are two figures, emblems of peace and freedom.

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located next to the National War Memorial and contains the remains of an unknown Canadian First World War soldier who was exhumed from a cemetery near Vimy Ridge. The Tomb and its Unknown Soldier represents all Canadians, whether they be navy, army, air force or merchant marine, who died or may die for their country in all conflicts—past, present, and future.

The Books of Remembrance which lie in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower are another record of the wars. In addition, most cities and towns across the country have dedicated a monument, a building, or a room to their native sons and daughters who gave their lives. These commemorative locations are an enduring record of the losses suffered by communities as Canadians went forward to fight for what they believed was right.

One day every year, we pay special homage to those who died in service to their country. We remember these brave men and women for their courage and their devotion to ideals. We wear poppies, attend ceremonies, and visit memorials. For one brief moment of our life, we remember why we must work for peace every day of the year.

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