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What is two minutes of your time worth this Remembrance Day?

No matter what I’m doing on Nov. 11, I always take two minutes around 11 a.m. to stand still in silence, remembering those who fought so that the rest of us could live free of tyranny and oppression. The people who died, who suffered, and who sacrificed their lives

I remember when I worked at Tim Hortons during my university days, I asked my employer if we were going to stop and take part in two minutes of silence for Remembrance Day. He said no. I told him (not asked him) that I would be participating and walked into the back room. I stood for those two minutes, listening to The Last Post, tears welling up in my eyes. I was proud to stand there and, for a short amount of time, dedicate all my thoughts and my love to those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

As I did this, everyone else kept working. Customers ordered their coffee and sandwiches. My colleagues worked overtime to make sure they got their food in a timely manner. The phone was ringing off the hook. No one stopped. No one listened to the bugle ringing out. No one cared.

My heart broke.

This wasn’t the last time I would experience this kind of indifference to Canada’s veterans. At numerous workplaces I’ve had to ask my employer to allow me to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies, or to keep a livestream of the event running on my computer. Most of the time, the employer will agree. But no one else is interested. No one else feels the need to take initiative and say “we may have a meeting at 11 a.m., but can we make it 11:05 a.m. so that those who want to pay their respects to this country’s veterans can do so without repercussions?” And no employer was volunteering to make that change.

My father instilled in me a strong sense of respect for our veterans. My grandfather was a paratrooper during the Second World War and while I was pretty close with him during the few years he was alive, I never felt closer to him than on Remembrance Day. I would go every year, skipping class if need be, to the war memorial to pay tribute. I would meet up with friends and we would stand there and listen to the speeches and watch as the wreaths were laid by the site. And then we would stand in silence, listening as gunshots were fired. Thousands of people would be crowded on the streets, and yet there was not a pin drop to be heard. It was enough to make you cry.

One day in early 2000, my dad sent me this video. It was Terry Kelly singing a song called “A Pittance of Time,” and it perfectly summed up my feelings towards Remembrance Day. Actually, it impacted me so much that every year I search for the song on Youtube.

The song was based on Kelly’s personal experience. He was in a drug store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia when an announcement came over the stores PA asking customers who would still be on the premises at 11:00 AM to give two minutes of silence in respect to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us. The customers, however, weren’t having it. They wanted to pay for their items and move on with their day.

Sadly, nothing has changed.

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War. There are no veterans from that war still alive. Despite these facts, less and less people show up to these Remembrance Day ceremonies to offer their respect. Less people are wearing the poppy and less people are taking those two minutes to remember.

And that’s a shame.

Remembrance Day has never been more important for women

There are moments in history where women have proven themselves to be forces of change. These moments give me goose bumps — when I think of what these women fought for, what they sacrificed so I could be in this position: a woman editor of a news publication, a woman who can vote, and a woman who has equal rights.

On this Remembrance Day, I’m reminded of the role women played during the war efforts. They worked in construction, took over their husbands’ jobs in farms and factories, and manufactured shells and ammunitions for the men overseas. They sold souvenir stamps and knit clothing for military personnel. Throughout both World Wars, over 50,000 women joined the Canadian Armed Forces. They served as soldiers, nurses, and artists.

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Their contributions not only played a large part in the success of the war effort, but it also helped laid the foundations for women’s movements to come. These were the same women who fought for the vote and the opportunity to work alongside a man. They set the groundwork for women to become active members of the military. They were just as brave as the men on the front lines.

Last year, I wrote a piece about how Remembrance Day is impacting future generations. Groups of students and families with young children gathered at Queen’s Park around 11 a.m. to watch as veterans and politicians acknowledged the sacrifice of Canada’s men and women in uniform — the people who fought so that we could be free.

This year, I’m a bit more cynical. I still admire and respect every single person who contributed (and still contributes) to the Canadian military. But, as a society, I feel like Canada still as a long way to go.

7f5c68c6f4bea0b3cf89c090fd0a6c72Celebrating women in the military is often an afterthought —the words “and women” are thrown into most public speeches about military service and sacrifice, but very little is said about their dedication to the cause.

The women being celebrated on Remembrance Day sacrificed much more than anyone should have to. They served during a time when their service wasn’t recognized, where they were simply considered stand-ins for men who were being forced to go oversees. Women with pilot licences were still unable to serve in the war effort during the Second World War, despite being active members of the Royal Canadian Air Force – Women’s Division. So, why not recognize their service now?

 

While watching CBC’s live-stream of the ceremony in Ottawa, I noticed that their banner included a number of photographs from various war efforts, from the Boer War in 1899 to our peacekeepers and soldiers fighting against ISIS. The pictures are touching, but they also don’t include any women. No female veterans were interviewed prior to the ceremony either, or featured during the hour pre-show.

Over the last few years, instances of sexism and harassment against women in the military and the RCMP have been widely covered in the media. As of 2014, women only made up 14.8 per cent of the Canadian Armed Forces, 18.7 per cent in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and 18.4 per cent of the Royal Canadian Navy.

But, that doesn’t stop women from joining up. It doesn’t stop women from going through the training and overcoming all of those obstacles. And this should be celebrated and remembered.

The last year has been challenging for women. In the United States, women watched as a sexist man was elected President. In Canada, sexual assault cases were thrown out because the word of women could not be trusted. Female reporters are being targeted and attacked on air be men shouting obscenities. There is a real and inexcusable lack of respect for women, despite it being 2016.

On this Remembrance Day, let’s use this opportunity to renew our sense of togetherness and respect. Let’s honour the sacrifices of men and women equally, and continue to fight for total equality.

Let’s not let anyone’s service be forgotten or go unrecognized.

Lest We Forget.

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Lest we Forget: remembering and thinking about the future

Cosmo DeClerq, my grandfather, Canada-Belgian SAS
Cosmo DeClerq, my grandfather, Canada-Belgian SAS

My grandfather was a paratrooper during the Second World War. He never spoke to us about his experiences—and, frankly, we never asked. I was too young to understand what he had gone through. I never really knew he was in the military until he passed away and I met some of his colleagues at the funeral.

That’s why it was refreshing to see so many young faces at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony.

Queen’s Park was crowded with young students and families with their children. Most were wearing black overcoats and the bright red of their poppy pins could be seen despite the drizzling rain. There were no whispers among this crowd; no snickers or horseplay. It was the most silent and respectful crowd I’ve seen in a while. The exception was the young girl behind me, who was quietly explaining what was happening for three international University of Toronto students who decided to attend the ceremony. Why? They wanted to learn more about Canadian culture and heritage.

These ceremonies are meant to give us time to remember the past—the men and women who served our country both at home and abroad, who died to protect our freedom and our way of life. But, maybe it can do more. Maybe, it can help us look into the future.

I spent a few minutes after the ceremony speaking with groups of students, most of whom weren’t native to this country. They were all fascinated by the ceremony, and all could relate to this idea of “remembrance.” Some came from war-torn countries, others from Europe, South America, or Asia. One young man was from Japan, and he spoke of the atomic bomb. He felt compelled to come to Queen’s Park and listen to the words spoken by our politicians and military leaders.

And really, what better place to learn about what it means to be Canadian? Our military forces—at least our current military forces—are so diverse. There were men, women, and people of various ethnic and religious values, all marching together as one unit. That’s Canada.

When I decided to write a piece about Remembrance Day for Women’s Post, I automatically thought of the women in service. I think Brigadier-General Lowell Thomson, Commander 4th Canadian Division, said it best when he gave homage to his military upbringing. He said his father was a long-time soldier, but then went on to say that he was the son of a woman who had served “during a time when her service wasn’t recognized.” That’s when I noticed there were very few women in uniform sitting in the crowds. About 600 WWII veterans die a day around the world, so this isn’t surprising. Perhaps most of them ventured to Ottawa to partake in their larger ceremony by the War Memorial. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. As Managing Editor of Women’s Post, I was hoping to speak with them and share their stories.

2015-11-10 16.55.35Instead, looking around the crowds, I noticed the number of young women taking part in the ceremony, specifically a young girl who was leading the cadets through the parade. She was independent, kind, commanding and strong. “If you feel cold, wiggle your toes and fingers. If you feel sick, let me know,” she said slowly while her fellow cadets looked at her nervously. Throughout the ceremony, she addressed her group, told them to stand tall, proud, and smiled when appropriate. She was the prime example of the type of woman younger girls could look up to.

I didn’t understand what Remembrance Day meant until I was a teenager. And even then, I feel like it was my circumstance—the death of a loved one—that suddenly gave me the desire to remember all of those who gave their lives in service. These young people, the cadets, students (international or Canadian native), and children who attended today’s ceremony, are all ahead of the game. I can only hope they truly take away the meaning of remembrance.  Just because the WWII veterans are fading, doesn’t mean their memories should be lost. There will always be war or conflict—it’s the nature of human beings and the sad reality of living in a world where people don’t always agree. But, if we forget where it all began, if we ignore our own history and heritage, there is no way to understand how OUR Canada was shaped. And that understanding is crucial to the future of not only this country, but the world.

And that’s worth a minute of silence, don’t you think?

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I will remember you

Remembrance Day is the time to remember those who fought for our freedom. My father was a Second World War veteran. He served in the air force in Gander, Newfoundland until the back of his skull was smashed against the roof of his plane during an accident on a surveillance flight in 1943. He spent months in a coma and was discharged with a metal plate in his head. He could never fly again.

I asked him why he had volunteered. His answer was that Hitler represented a threat against humanity and civility and everyone faced a choice — to look the other way or to fight. And, like most young people of his time, he believed that his choice mattered more than his life. He believed that he could make a difference and that belief is what won the war.

On Remembrance Day, I try to think of the men and women who gave up their way of life, who put their dreams and hopes on hold and who died in the fight for freedom. I try to put myself in their shoes, to imagine them with human strengths and frailties.

Imagine an 18-year-old boy signing up for a war he knew nothing about, doing so out of a sense of duty and honour. Think of him the week before he left home, noticing the leaves changing colour from the cold nights of fall, or watching the wind whip across the lake, blowing the waves into whitecaps as a storm approaches.

The day his ship sails, does he stride up the gangplank with any regrets? His sister and mother wave to him from the shore, hope and fear fill their eyes. Nobody said what they were all thinking — “Will this be the last time our eyes meet?” He wouldn’t know what the next day had in store for him, let alone the coming months. His hope is his only comfort as he watches his country slip away in the distance.

Or picture a man who was too young for the First World War and older than most of the men headed into the second. He leaves the embrace of his wife and children as he boards a train heading to the coast, where he’ll meet a ship that will take him to Europe. He’s finished basic training and is on his way to the front. His chances for survival are slim but so too are his options. He goes because he couldn’t hold his head high as he watched the younger men leave for the war. He wasn’t at ease in his home thinking of what they had to endure.

The newspapers fill him with rage. He loves his life and is afraid, but he now gets a sense of strength each time he puts on his uniform. He looks down at his children waving to him from the platform of the railway station and he smiles. He wants them to remember him with a smile. His eyes meet his wife’s. They are filled with tears because she knows why he smiles.

Or think of the woman whose brothers and husband have left for a war she is barely a part of. She works in a factory making munitions while her son is in school. She wants to do more. She is alone in a world with very few men. She notices the emptiness in her world but tries to keep busy with her job and her son. She works as hard as she can and wonders if the bullets she makes will keep her husband safe. She believes that they will stop the Nazis from gaining ground, and this keeps her going. She cries every night once her son is in bed. She tries not to despise the men who have stayed behind.

She waits, writing to her husband every night. His letters come sporadically. They stop and she knows something is wrong. She gets a letter from him that was lost in the mail; it is months old, but she reads it over and over again every night.

One day, a black car with two uniformed men stops in front of the house. The tears start flowing before she has opened the door. She will go on, her life forever changed. She learns to cope with the loneliness, and her husband fills her dreams. She sleeps in his shirts until they fall apart. The war ends, her son grows up and with each passing year he becomes more like his father. When he boards the train to go off to college their eyes meet; he has his father’s eyes and she is overwhelmed with the memory of the last time she saw her husband. She will cry again that night.

And remember the man trapped in a prison camp, separated from his family in the middle of the night by authorities who don’t recognise his humanity. He remembers gunshots and screams but does not know if his wife and children are alive or dead. He works every day moving piles of sand from one side of the camp to the other. The camp is full of men, women, and children. But his world is little more than hunger and emptiness. The sun on his face has no warmth. The guards treat them like animals but he knows they must do this in order to separate themselves from their captives and live with their atrocities. He tries not to think of his life as it was, but it haunts him. He dreams of his past and is afraid to lose hope because without it he will lose his sanity. At night he works with others to dig a tunnel beneath the fence. They are caught and he takes responsibility for it. He stands in front of a firing squad on a sunny day and for a brief moment he can feel the warmth of the sun on his face.

With these thoughts I remember those that gave their lives to the war — men and women who lived and died with honour

5 reasons (of many) to wear a red poppy this Remembrance Day

This year a pacifist group in Ottawa rolled out the idea that the red poppy — you know, the one we wear to remember all the sacrifices made by our soldiers to protect our freedom — is a warmongering badge of evil and should be cast aside in favour of a white poppy.

It is easy to forget in these relatively peaceful times the reasons why we wear the poppy, and oddly enough for that we should be thankful. Thankful that we have a generation so insulated from the horrors of war that they think we should do away with the poppy pin of remembrance in favour of a white pin of peace. But there are many reasons we wear the red pin, and maybe some folks need a reminder.

The red poppy is a symbol of peace just as much as any other, and the reason we wear it is to remember the horrors of war and the selfless sacrifices made by those who have protected our nation, our safety, and our freedom so that no one will ever have to endure them again.

Here are five of the many, many reasons to wear a red poppy this Remembrance Day.

1. Wear the poppy for the Battle of Vimy Ridge

On April 9, 1917, an Easter Monday, 100,000 Canadian troops fighting within the British forces stormed a ridged area outside of the town of Vimy, France in a horrible snowstorm. Of those 100,000 Canadians 3,598 were killed and 7,004 were wounded. These were soldiers who, for the first time, were fighting for more than the British Crown — they were fighting for Canada. The spirit of our nation was created in the trenches of Vimy Ridge as our soldiers fought and died to protect Canada, and for that we should remember them by wearing a poppy.

2. Wear the poppy for the Second Battle of Ypres

This battle, waged in Belgium, was fought by Canadians within British forces alongside the French and Belgians. The battle marked the first time poison gas was used in the large scale on the western front of the war. The results were catastrophic. 70,000 men were wounded, dead, or missing after the use of chlorine gas, a chemical agent dispersed through the air that suffocated the soldiers (many of whom were conscripts) and ate away at the tissue in the lungs and eyes of soldiers until they either stumbled out into the battlefield to be shot or chocked to death on their own blood. All in the name of freedom. Wear a red poppy to remember them.

3. Wear a the poppy for Flanders Fields

Regardless of how many times you had to read the poem in elementary school take a moment to pause and think about it. At an American military cemetery John McCrae passed through the day after he his friend died in the Second Battle of Ypres. McCrae described the battle as a “nightmare” where for two straight weeks on one side was the never ending gunfire and the other side the piles of dead soldiers. McRae performed the burial of his friend and the next day while sitting in the back of an ambulance he wrote the iconic poem which describes the horrors of war juxtaposed with the gift of peace that the fallen give to the living. By wearing the red poppy you are remembering the sacrifices made by all those who were laid to rest in Flanders Fileds and swearing that these deaths were not in vain. Wear the red poppy to remember them and everything they did so that you may live in peace.

4. Wear a red poppy for the Holocaust

To argue against red poppy is not only an insult to all of those who died fighting for the freedom of Canadians and others around the world, it is an insult to those who died and survived the Holocaust. Millions of people were being helplessly exterminated before the Allied forces liberated them. These are people who were murdered while our soldiers fought to free them, Take a look at the numbers.

6 million Jews were murdered.
12.5 million Slavs were murdered.
15,000 gays were murdered.
2 million Poles were murdered.
1.5 million Romani were murdered.
250,000 million disabled people were murdered.
Countless thousands of others were murdered.

When you wear the red poppy you are remembering the brave fight our soldiers made to free those they could save and remembering those they could not.

5. Wear a red poppy to help Canadian veterans today

The poppies worn on lapels were first crafted by disabled veterans, who gave so much for us and our country, so that they could earn a small amount of money to support themselves and their families. The poppy campaign is not run by the Royal Canadian Legion to benefit veterans, many of whom need the income and support. The least you can do is respect the sacrifices they made for us here today by donating the change in your pocket for a red poppy.

 

 

Follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.