It’s Remembrance Day tomorrow.
At 11 am tomorrow, the 11th day of the 11th Month of 2018, it will be exactly 100 years since the guns fell silent on the First World War battlefields of western Europe. It was a war unlike any other Canadians had fought.
Just 47 years after the birth of Canada, the Great War began in 1914 for Canadians – with the raising of a battalion of volunteers, mostly veterans of the Boer War in South Africa, funded by a private entrepreneur, and blessed with the name of the Governor General’s daughter. The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was the first Canadian unit to ship out – in August 1914. It would land in Europe as part of the 27th British Division on December 21 – the first Canadian unit to engage in combat and the only Canadian infantry regiment to join the fight in 1914.
Over the next four years, some 600,000 Canadians would follow the Patricia’s and 60,000 of them would die in Europe. That’s an immense contribution of human lives from a nation of just 8 million. Contrast the scale of this enormous effort with Canada’s most recent and longest war – the conflict in Afghanistan. Now 37 million strong, Canada sent 40,000 soldiers to the war over 12 years, suffering 159 killed and hundreds wounded.
Of course the “War to End All Wars” did not. The Second World War involved even more Canadian soldiers – over 1 million (including Newfoundlanders who were not yet Canadians. 45,000 of them were killed and 55,000 wounded. The Korean War followed, and the Cold War and numerous military actions in support of peace, the Gulf War, and Afghanistan.
What does Remembrance Day mean?
Each of us views Remembrance Day differently. I do not see it as a glorification of war. There is nothing glorious about the wholesale slaughter of human beings that marked the First World War. There is something noble about the soldiers who repeatedly climbed out of their trenches to attack a fortified enemy line knowing full well that half of them would be killed within minutes of climbing above ground. Yet, they did it anyway – believing it was imperative to the survival and freedom of their families, their nation, their way of life.
Remembrance Day reminds me there are things in this life worth fighting for.
I would fight for the freedom, safety and security of my children, my family, my friends and others. I would fight to preserve hope.
I lived and worked in Tajikistan and Afghanistan in 2007, during the coldest winter in decades there. The poorest of the former Soviet Republics, Tajikistan is ruled by a brutal dictator since the horrific civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1991. Most of the capital city, Dushanbe was without electricity or gas for weeks. People all over the city, including mothers and newborns in maternity wards, froze to death that winter. Yet, on an outing in the city a Tajik friend and I came across an old woman sweeping the streets with a bundle of dead tree branches. She admonished us for looking glum in the frigid weather. “Be happy!” she said, “Next year it will be worse.”
Although the most peaceful place I’ve ever been – there is virtually no petty crime in a dictatorship because the consequences are dire – Tajikistan was a nation without hope. The only pleasure in life came from knowing today is bad, but tomorrow will be worse, so celebrate today.
Across the Amu Darya river, Afghanistan was a nation wracked by violence. But the people of Afghanistan, faced with constant danger and shifting governments, were hopeful. They looked forward to a brighter future and believed things could get better.
There are things on this Earth worse than war.
The absence of hope in Tajikistan produced a life of oppression that was worse than the constant violence of Afghanistan. The prospect of a life without hope is worse than war. Hope is worth fighting for.
When I close my eyes this Remembrance Day, I will remember the thousands of Canadians who sacrificed their youth, their health, their lives to preserve my hope for a better and brighter future. I will remember the thousands of Canadian servicemen and women who remain on guard for me, today and always, across Canada and around the world. And I will remember the names of soldiers I served with who never made it home.
To those we left behind:
- Hess von Kreudner