Yellowknife hosted a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Centoaph on 49 Avenue this year. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and group size restrictions, the ceremony had smaller crowds than usual. A highlight of the event was a speech by Loralea Wark, Remembrance Day chair with the Yellowknife Legion.
The text of the speech follows. The event can be viewed on the Joint Task Force North Facebook page.
In Canada, the symbolism of a torch – a flame – being passed from hand to hand comes to us not from the Olympics, but from the poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by Lt. Col John McCrae, a Canadian doctor stationed in Flanders Fields, Belgium, one of the bloodiest battlefields of the First World War. As a soldier, he encouraged others in the third stanza to, Take up our quarrel with the foe; to you from failing hands we throw/the torch. Be yours to hold it high.
The idea of passing the torch to the next generation has remained with us, though post-Second World War the meaning behind the passing of the torch changed, and today passing the torch is no longer a call to arms. Instead, the torch has become a symbol of remembrance, and the passing of the torch means that the next generation has accepted the challenge of remembering those who have served and died, both at home and abroad, so that we can have the rights and freedoms we so often take for granted.
2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis, and the end of the Second World War. Ten years ago, in May 2010, I had the opportunity to take 38 students and four other chaperones from Ecole St Patrick High School to the international liberation parade in Wageningen, Netherlands, marking the 65th anniversary of these events.
This parade was very special: given the age of the veterans, it was the last time a parade of this magnitude was being planned for them as it was getting harder for them to travel. For most of us who were there it became one of the highlights of our trip. For many, including me, it was life-changing.
The parade was not your typical parade. The participants wore dark military dress uniforms and medals won for bravery and service to the country, not colourful costumes.
The participants were not young; many were in wheelchairs or walked with the assistance of a cane or a walker.
They did not throw candy from the floats as they went past; instead, they waved flags and blew kisses from restored Second World War vehicles.
Veterans from all of the liberating nations – Canada, Britain, Poland, and the US – marched, rode, or were wheeled past, and the raucous reception they received from the crowd of over 130,000 people was nothing less than they deserved.
“That One Veteran”
When we got back on the bus after the parade most of us were talking about the impact “that one veteran” had on us. There were thousands of veterans in that parade, but without saying anything else, each of us knew which veteran we were all referring to.
“That one veteran” was riding in the back of a restored Second World War transport truck. He was alone, accompanied only by a woman about my age, presumably a granddaughter. As his vehicle came around the corner he could not help but notice those of us standing closest to the corner: we were decked out in Canadian paraphernalia, and I’m pretty sure we were cheering louder than the rest of the crowd combined.
As he passed the first few of us he smiled and waved, but as he continued down the street and saw how far our group stretched – pretty well the length of a city block – his smile faded. His chin began to wobble, and he began to cry. He said something to his granddaughter and she shook her head, but he nodded and attempted to rise. Aided by his cane and his granddaughter’s supporting hand under his elbow, he stood and saluted us. It was at that moment that I realized why we were there, what we were witnessing, and the responsibility that had been given to each of us.
Most of our WWII veterans are now in their 90s, and as this generation passes on and the human connection to this era is lost, it is imperative that we all continue to take time throughout the year, but on Remembrance Day especially, to reflect and remember, and understand why we are doing so.
The paradox in our country is that our veterans are getting both older and younger, so today is also about remembering and honouring those currently in service to our country because their service and sacrifice here and abroad is every bit as important as that of the soldiers’ in the past. These men and women protect us, our homes, our nation, and our rights. They do it willingly and selflessly, asking not a thing in return.
We were reminded of their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to help and protect others again this year as, during the early stages of the pandemic, 1,400 Canadian Armed Forces personnel were called upon to go into nursing homes and care for our most vulnerable: the elderly … some of whom were veterans of the Second World Warand Korea.
We cannot forget any of those who have served our country, be it in the past or today. We cannot forget what they represent, or what they do for us and our nation. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and the only way we can repay that debt is by taking the time to remember and by passing on the reasons why we remember to future generations.
The veterans in that parade passed the torch of remembrance to us, as it was passed to them by the generations before. This year, on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands and the end of the Second World War, we accept the passing of the torch, and the responsibility that comes with it.
Lest we forget.