It may be hard for Canadians to associate Remembrance Day with anything other than the danger of pining poppies to our lapels. It has been 100 years since the end of the First World War, and in the face of mounting geopolitical pressure, it seems as if the lessons of history have escaped us.

remembrance day

photo by Philip Stevens

November 11th is an important day of the year in the collective memory of many around the world. At 11am on the 11th, people stop and take a moment to honour those who have risked their lives for their countries. It is a moment of reflection on the brutality of war, and the sacrifice so many young soldiers have made.

What is Remembrance Day?

 By the end of the conflict, an estimated 37 million soldiers and civilians had died. 
Remembrance Day has been observed in Canada and other Commonwealth countries since the end of the First World War. The tradition was first inaugurated by King George V on November 11, 1919, marking exactly a year since the war came to an end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Evolving out of Armistice Day which specifically commemorated this event in the First World War, Remembrance Day is now observed to honour all those who have served and continue to serve in the armed forces. As such, it has become an important day of remembering for all soldiers– past and present– and serves as a day to reflect on the nature of conflict, and how it has and does shape our society and its history.

The First World War was a turning point for the world in many ways. It marked the brutal transition away from ‘Gentleman’s warfare’ to the killing fields we are now familiar with. There is a famous story of the French showing up to one of the early battles against the Germans. The French arrived on white horses, swords in hand and feathers in their caps. They were promptly mowed down by German machine-gun fire before any order to retreat could be given.

remembrance day 100 years

 “This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” 
By the end of the conflict, an estimated 37 million soldiers and civilians had died. Empires crumbled, new countries were created, and a scar was left across the whole of Europe. Remembrance Day was born out of this catastrophic war as a memorial to those who served and died. And while the Great War was supposed to be the last global conflict, history repeated itself a few decades later.

How to Honour Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day is not a celebration of military power, nor is it about the tacit acceptance of war. It is an opportunity to reflect on conflict, history, and the sacrifices of those who fought. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said of war: “This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”

remembrance day 100 years

Photo by Jeff McIntosh

Wear a Poppy

A simple way to demonstrate your observance of Remembrance Day is to wear a poppy. Referencing the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, the poppy is a small but powerful symbol of remembrance. Even if you are unable to participate in any other act of commemoration, wearing a poppy demonstrates that the reason for the day is still in your thoughts.

One thoughtful way of showing respect would be to stop and just talk to one of the veterans who ‘sells’ poppies. A friendly conversation can go a long way.

Attend a Ceremony

Whether at a school, community centre, town hall, park, or cemetery; there are ceremonies occurring nearby which you can attend and show you respects. Bring flowers, even volunteer to help organize the event, and pause for the two minutes of silence. All of these acts of communal mourning are significant ways you can show your respect on Remembrance Day within your own community.

Read and Write

A wonderful way to honour Remembrance Day is through reading and writing as acts of commemoration. Research a family member who served in the armed forces, speak with a veteran, or research the participation of those in your community in past wartime efforts. Looking to the past is an important act of preserving such powerful memories. You can also write to veterans and current members of the Canadian armed forces through federal writing initiatives such as Valentines for Vets and Postcards for Peace E-cards.

You can also create an online memorial page to honour and share the memory of a veteran. By including photos, information about their interests, and details about their life (including their role in wartime efforts), you can pay homage to their lives and the risks they took in service of their country.

Remembering Around the World

remembrance day 100 years

Remembrance day is observed all over the world. The United Kingdom, India, Barbados, Kenya, St. Lucia, and Bermuda are all past or current Commonwealth countries that obverse Remembrance Day on November 11th. This day of remembering is also observed in Australia and New Zealand, but is referred to as Anzac Day in these countries. There a number of countries outside of the commonwealth that observe it, too, such as France and Belgium.

In the United States, Veterans Days is observed on November 11th, and is honoured in a similar way to Remembrance Day in Canada, with salutes, parades, and commemorative ceremonies. The United States also celebrates Memorial Day on the last Monday of May each year, a celebration unique to the country.

1 Comment

  1. […] As a Commonwealth country, many of Canada's traditions were originally practiced in the United Kingdom. The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (referring to the regular field artillery unites of the Canadian Army) use a 25 pound gun and cart as the funeral vehicle. Drums are played during the funeral procession, and the medals, headdress, and insignia of the deceased are carried on a velvet cushion. Volleys (from guns or canons) are fired over the grave of the deceased. Finally, as the body is interred, a bugle will play the "Last Post": a traditional British custom to commemorate the deceased during wartime, which is also heard on Remembrance Day.  […]

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