The question that will be whispered
Remembrance Day observances at Uxbridge Secondary School last Friday left a number of adult attendees in tears, including me.
My tears came during a brief film clip which showed soldiers in action at Ypres in the First World War. It was, to the best of my recollection, the first time I had seen footage of that particularly nasty engagement, where my father’s much older brother was killed in action. During the service, I also remembered that I was born near the start of the Second World War in the middle of a bombing raid on Birmingham, one of many that severely pounded that city during the first month of my life. I still have brief memories of nights in the bomb shelter at the bottom of the garden. And I vividly remember the day my father came home from the army, even though I was only five.
The USS commemoration, attended by most of the student body, both Canadian and American veterans, politicians and invitees, included music, song, monologues, videos and speeches, while a river of poppy images streamed across the ceiling. Along the hallways leading to the gymnasium stood scores of students, each holding a Chrome Book featuring a brief history of a different Canadian who had served in either the First, Second or Korean wars.
Guest speaker Maj. Jeff Peck, a USS graduate who has served in Bosnia, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, received a standing ovation for his emotional speech in which he shared snapshots of his career.
In the library was a dress made of 1,700 poppies pinned together and a diorama of a First World War trench.
It was, as I said, a moving experience and everyone at USS who was involved in putting it all together deserves a round of applause and our thanks.
On Sunday, at the official township Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph, Uxbridge residents once again turned out in droves. And some of the names of the fallen from the Great War, read out loud, still resonate with many Uxbridge residents today.
Obviously, this Remembrance Day had to be observed a little more specially than in the past, marking as it did the 100th anniversary of the armistice that brought the First World War to an end. In another 27 years, we will be marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In 35 years, we mark the end of fighting in Korea.
But at what point will someone perhaps whisper the question: “Is it time to end Remembrance Day observances?” It will have to be whispered, because whoever first asks the question is likely to be subjected to a severe backlash.
Of course, some of us old codgers still have a connection to someone who fought in the First World War, however tenuous. And as long as there are still people alive with that same connection to Second World War and Korean War soldiers, I expect the remembrance to go on. Yet, unless there is another great conflict – (which cannot be ruled out, given the state of affairs in the world today) – there will come a time when that question will invariably be asked.
The Battle of the Boyne took place in 1690, when Protestant King Billy (William of Orange) defeated Catholic James II. But even today, the Orangemen still stage marches to commemorate that battle. Why? What purpose does it serve?
I doubt it will be in my lifetime, but it seems to me that some sad day someone will have to ask if it is time to end Remembrance Day. And face the flak.
Tell me, am I wrong?