Canada remembers its war dead today, as it does every November 11th. It was on this date in 1918 that the “Great War,” the “War To End All Wars” came to an end.
Today we know that the First World War was just the beginning. Most years of the 20th century saw war being waged at some point. This century is no better: there may not be worldwide conflicts, but there are lots of little wars happening.
It makes sense therefore to take time to reflect on military sacrifice and pray for peace. In cities, towns and villages across Canada people will pause today to do just that.
In Ottawa, the nation’s capital, Canada’s war dead are remembered daily in the Memorial Chamber in the Parliament Buildings. There you will find books listing the names of each Canadian serviceman or woman who died serving their country, going back to the War of 1812.
The Parliament Buildings are in the middle of a multi-billion dollar renovation/restoration which has seen the closure of Centre Block and the Peace Tower, which houses the Memorial Chamber. That has meant the Chamber has been moved to a new location in West Block.
I visited the new Chamber for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I must admit the modern setting seemed strange to me when compared to the room in the Peace Tower that has been used since 1927. It doesn’t have that church-like feel of the old Chamber.
Originally there was one altar with a book containing the names of Canada’s First World War dead. These days an additional six books commemorating the dead of other conflicts may also be found in the chamber.
Each day a new page is displayed in each of the books. Families have been known to plan their vacations in Ottawa to be there the day a relative’s name is displayed. With more than 66,000 casualties in that first war, the names don’t come up very often.
I have never thought about visiting on the day one of my relatives is being thus remembered. I don’t know why I have never considered that until this minute. Maybe because none of them are my direct ancestors, all having died before I was born.
We tend to live in the present in a society that is racing toward the future. Sometimes though it is important to look back, to see where we have been and how we have managed to get where we are today.
Those whose names are inscribed in Canada’s Books of Remembrance fought and died for an ideal. They thought there was something more important than themselves and acted accordingly.
I wonder what they would think of Canada today? Have we lived up to their ideals? Have we met their expectations? Or is it time for some national soul-searching?
This Remembrance Day is a good time to reflect.