“Arise o compatriots!”
These may be words familiar to nationals of the West African country, Nigeria. But today, we choose to borrow those words as a charge to honor our war veterans. Our veterans are not men lacking in courage. Their exploits do not indicate lack of fear, rather they choose to tame their fear and chisel it to become a tool for exploits.
As immigrants, our cultural integration is incomplete without having a fair knowledge of the history of our dear nation, Canada. And, that history is incomplete without considering the contributions of our war veterans.
Today, we join the rest of the country to honor both our fallen and living heroes who, with acts of bravery and drops of their blood, choose to offer us the peace we so desire.
Remembrance Day, originally called Armistice Day, is the day Canada marks the end of hostilities during the First World War and an opportunity to recall all those who have served in the defense of our nation.
Armistice Day was inaugurated in 1919 throughout the British empire but in 1921, our parliament passed the Armistice Day bill to observe ceremonies on the first Monday in the week of 11 November. At the time, the date collided with the Thanksgiving Day holiday which pretty much watered down the significance of the day. For the most part, there was little public celebration while veterans and their families gathered in churches and around local memorials to commemorate the day.
Some prominent citizens, including war veterans, pushed for the separation of the Thanksgiving holiday from the Remembrance Day.
The government of Canada decreed that the day, now called Remembrance Day, be observed on November 11. The National Thanksgiving Day was moved to a different date. Remembrance would no longer emphasize the political and military events leading to victory in the First World War but will emphasize the memory of fallen soldiers.
Although Remembrance Day is a federal statutory holiday in Canada yet, only three territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) and six provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador) consider it as such. The provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba run things differently. Why such a difference in attitude? Well, that conversation is beyond the scope of this article.
As a national holiday, it is a day set aside to recall military sacrifice in previous wars. Thousands are attracted to ceremonies and services around the country. It involves observing two minutes of silence by people at community cenotaphs, war memorials, schools, and other public places.
Wearing of poppies became a significant part of the ceremony. Madame Anna Guerin, called “The Poppy Lady from France”, decided to adopt the distribution of the poppy on Armistice Day to raise money for the needs of veterans and to remember the fallen heroes of World War 1. This remains a feature of the Remembrance Day to date.
The 50th anniversary of the end of World War 11 was celebrated. This generated a renewed public interest. As a result, the Ottawa National War Memorial is now nationally televised. Across the nation also, most media outlets – including radio and television stations, newspapers, magazines, and online media, all publish remembrance-related themes.
However, since then, Remembrance Day has gone through periodic decline.
Remembrance Memorials in History
Canada has some remembrance memorials which include:
- Canada’s National War Memorial, Ottawa. This was unveiled in 1939 by King George VI. Designed by Vernon March, it was built in 13 years. The National War Memorial has 22 figures representing the infantry, artillery, air force, nurses, cavalry, support services, forestry and navy march through a triumph arch. At the apex, there are allegorical figures representing peace and freedom.
In 1982, the dates for World War 11 and the Korean War were added to the memorial.
In 2000, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was joined to the base of the memorial.
This memorial hosts Canada’s National Remembrance Day every November 11.
- The Peace Tower at Parliament Hill. It was completed in 1927. At the base is the Memorial Chamber which contains the official Books of Remembrance, commemorating all Canadians who have died in uniform since Confederation.
- Local memorials in communities, neighborhoods, public associations and civic groups have been erected across Canada. Locals usually place these memorials in conspicuous places near city halls, in downtown parks or in other related places.
- Names of parks, streets and geographical places after soldiers or battles.
- Erected plaques and historic markers.
- Commemorative histories and books for schools, businesses, and associations.
- Blood-stained glass windows in churches and public buildings.
- Personal memorials of fallen heroes. These are usually cherished personal effects, pictures or papers of the deceased. Oftentimes, friends and family members of fallen heroes choose to preserve the memory of their loved ones with any of their personal effects.
Reviving the True Spirit of Remembrance Day
Remembrance Day is not about the national holiday. It is about our national war heroes, both fallen and living. We may not know them all, but we owe them all for their significant contributions. Theirs is true sacrifice. Theirs is true patriotism.
As said by George S. Patton Jr., “The highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”
A lot more is required to put the consciousness and significance of the day in the heart of every citizen. We all need to be a part of the celebration. We choose to rather call it “memoration” – in true memorial of our veterans. How have they impacted our lives as a country? How have they impacted generations unborn? They are unsung heroes.
It is time for their heroic deeds to be sung…out loud. Through lyrics. Through public participation in the annual observance. We cannot downplay it. Doing otherwise will be a disservice to them.
At The Immigrant Life, we affirm that Remembrance Day is less about war exploits. It is rather about the values that develop from war. The values of heroism, unity, liberty, sacrifice, patriotism, and honor for those who gave all for their land.
Written by Yinka Bakare.