Armistice and Remembrance
Armistice Day and Thanksgiving Day were both celebrated on the same day in Canada – on the Monday before 11 November each year – until Parliament, in 1931, established Remembrance Day and date as 11 November and immovable. Some now argue that calling it Remembrance Day instead of Armistice Day allows us to include remembrance of World War II, Korea, and other Canadian military actions. I don’t think that a decision in 1931 can be justified by events that had not yet happened and, since Parliament was setting the date, they could have picked a day when it was less likely to be bitterly cold or snowing. They didn’t. Therefore, I still call it Armistice Day because the essence is the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month coinciding with the cessation of hostilities in the war to end all wars.
And besides, 9 August is the official day for remembering Canadian veterans of peacekeeping.
Some folks don’t want to know that Canadians fight – have fought, are fighting, and will fight – and that they die in battle. Despite the reality. Canadian soldiers know and they are required when passing a cenotaph to halt, face the cenotaph, and pay compliments. In uniform, compliments are paid by saluting. In other dress, compliments are paid by standing at attention.
If I pass a cenotaph on foot, I halt and pay complements. Recently, a fellow observed me doing this and asked, “Is one of your relatives on that list?”
“No”, I replied, “Just my brothers.”
Two parades in my military career will never leave my memory. The first was a parade of more than 4,000 soldiers marching south from Queen’s Park in Toronto. Me and my brothers. The second was a parade of two. Me and my brother. Neither will be repeated.
During November of 1988, I was in the field for a couple of weeks to investigate the fairness of the leadership performance evaluations of officers in training. Also there, though for other reasons, was my brother George with whom I shared an office when we were in garrison.
George was the first-born son of a Dutch family. His formative years were spent under occupation. That ended when Canadians liberated his town and country. When he was old enough, his family sent him alone to Canada with the singular purpose of joining the Canadian Army to serve and thereby to express their appreciation and to repay what they saw as a debt.
George and I built a cairn of local rock and at the appointed hour, in a parade of two, we marched to our cenotaph, paid compliments, paused a minute, left our poppies there, then turned, and marched away. At the moment of our silence, amplified by the low overcast, the distant thunder of howitzers boomed into our consciousness from the official parade on the base some miles away.
I cannot forget George nor any of my brothers.
One day is Armistice Day and every day is Remembrance Day.