You are correct. Remembrance Day is not about veterans; they started it and (through the Royal Canadian Legion) some veterans still manage it, but the only really important people at the ceremony are the Governor General (who represents all Canadians, including the ones who remember nothing and care less) and the Silver Cross Mother (who represents all those who grieve for individual losses). The veterans, sitting in chairs, carrying flags or marching about (marching be used loosely) are window dressing. I believe we should have a Veteran's Day - making a nice long weekend in, say, February. (I would say in May but that's too close to Victoria Day which is so anachronistic that we really must keep it.)
It's time for an annual rant, this time provoked by this article
which tells us that some vets objected to Premier Marois wearing a fleur de lis
in her poppy.First
: I'm going to jump to Mme. Marois' defence.
I know that the Royal Canadian Legion has considerable legal, proprietary and traditional
interest in the poppy, and that their annual poppy campaign is the RCL's major fundraising campaign for its many worthy endeavours. I also know that many veterans hold the poppy in special regard ~ I observe here, in our Army.ca family
, many members change their avatar to a poppy at about this time every year. I am a veteran; I am not a Legion member, nor to I visit a Legion branch on 11 Nov, nor do I march in the 11 Nov "veterans parade" even though I always, health permitting, attend the services; but I do have a personal interest in honouring our war dead.
Many people, soldiers and civilians alike use a little commemorative pin to hold their poppy in place. Mine is shown below. (Who can tell me what the pin is for?) I have heard and read complaints against this; I find them all unpersuasive. Despite the Legion's proprietary interest, the poppy, as a symbol of remembrance of our war dead, not of the service or sacrifice of living veterans
, belongs to all of us. The fact that we wear it, period, is enough to satisfy the Legion's interests.
I don't know what went through Mme. Marois' mind when she used her little fleur de lis
to pin her poppy to her jacket. Perhaps she smiled slyly and said, to herself, "that will show those maudits anglais
" but it is equally likely that she thought about a faded family photograph of a relative who went off to war, maybe never to return, with a fleur de lis
on his lapel or, perhaps, the image of a grieving Quebecois mother who had just lost a son in Afghanistan crossed her mind. I don't know, and I am 100% certain that none of the complaining vets do either, so I, at least, and the vets, I believe, owe Mme Marois the benefit of the doubt. I applaud Mme Marois for wearing her poppy; that's what a loose combination of custom, good political public relations, and good taste require of politicians. I don't believe that attacks on her were, in any way, warranted.Second
, and my main point: Remembrance Day
. Remembrance Day, originally Armistice Day, was started by veterans with one specific aim: to remember their comrades who had been killed in battle. Except for the Americans, whose Civil War was, arguably, the first modern,mass war, we were strangers to the idea of the mass slaughter that characterized the campaigns in France and Flanders. The men and women who survived needed
to stop, every so often, and contemplate what had happened and what they contemplated was:For The FallenWith proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.Laurence Binyon, 1914
That's what prompted the whole thing, and, even today, one stanza from that poem, two trumpet calls and one piped lament is, really, almost all there is to any Remembrance Day service; at the national level our Governor General, representing all of us in our grief for all who gave their lives, and the Silver Cross Mother
, representing those who grieve, personally, for individuals, lay wreaths. All the rest: the inclusive prayers, the children singing John McCrae's iconic poem, the marching vets and everything else is window dressing. We gather for one, and only one reason, to pause for just two minutes and think about the human costs of war - in terms we can all understand, the death of a single man, but multiplied by dozens, hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands. (In some respects I think Afghanistan, with one or two soldiers killed every few weeks, is easier to comprehend than the great battles of earlier wars when the casualty lists tallied dozens even hundreds of names and hometowns each day.)
So, please, wear your poppy in remembrance
of our war dead - not our "glorious dead," there wasn't, ever, much glory - and, stop slagging Mme Marois for wearing hers. If you need some glory on Remembrance Day, consider, perhaps the text which is inscribed on the Memorial Arch
which connects the East and West Veterans Memorial Building in Ottawa:All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.Ecclesiasticus 44:7
Thanks for reading.Edit: typo