Thursday, November 11, 2010

Repost: Memories of Remembrance Day

Still up to my ears in laundry, nursing and a bout of mastitis. Please enjoy last year's post, and may you thank a vet today!

Remembrance Day has always been an important occasion for me. As a little girl, I donned my Girl Guide uniform and marched in parade after parade, and laid a wreath for my mother's father, who served as a gunner with the Newfoundlanders in the Second World War. Grandfather Spawn served in many places, including Africa, and was reportedly the tallest man in the British Army.

In university, I was fortunate enough to hang around with friends who were also grateful for the sacrifices of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers. I attended at least two ceremonies at the National War Memorial with Kathryn and John; each year, we skipped classes (shame on Carleton for being open on Remembrance Day) and headed down to the War Memorial to do our duty as proud and grateful young people.

John was a former reservist by then, and made a point of introducing us to any soldiers and veterans he knew. I remember making signs one year, saying "Thank you for our freedom, from students of Carleton University."

One year, the War Memorial was under construction; the government held the ceremony right on the lawn of Parliament Hill. We felt strange, walking onto the Hill; it just didn't feel right. Many people looked uneasy.

But then, music swelled from the Peace Tower. It wasn't the tolling of the hour. It was a song played on the clock's carillon.

"What is that?" I said to John and Kathryn. In reply, John began to sing along.

"They'll be blue birds over/ the white cliffs of Dover/ tomorrow, just you wait and see...."

They were playing war-time music and hymns. "The White Cliffs of Dover" faded, followed by "For Those in Peril on the Sea" and then by "To Thee My Country" and many others. And suddenly, holding the ceremony there on the Hill felt right, and the crowd was united in singing.

The best part of the national ceremony, every year, was the veteran's parade. They marched by, some of them using canes, others being pushed in wheelchairs, as thousand of people lined the route. We would clap, and wave and cheer, and yell "Thank you! Thank you!" until our throats were hoarse and our voices gone.

Back then, I remember feeling as if these were the very last veterans of a "true" war for Canada, the last ones to carry that burden. Little did I know that 12 years later, I would be living in a military house on a military base, with one neighbour and friend just returned from Afghanistan last year, haunted by what he's witnessed; another neighbour who just left for Afghanistan earlier this month; and more friends than I can count who have sent their husbands and wives over to that country. We worry ourselves sick about these friends, and yet we are so proud of their willingness to risk their lives for women and children in another country, women and children who have been brutally oppressed and abused and scarred.

The Hubby is sailing today, and therefore is attending the ship's Remembrance Day ceremony, rather than helping me drag our kids to the local cenotaph. The children and I are watching the national Remembrance Day ceremoney in Ottawa this year, and as always, it's making me cry from a mixture of homesickness and pride and gratitude. But this year, I'm also thinking of D. and C. and the others I know who are modern vets; I'm thinking of my grandfathers and Hubby's grandfather, who served in the First and Second World Wars; and I'm thinking of Hubby, ready and willing to fulfill the same duty these men have.

Of course, like everyone else, I hope that wherever he serves, he stays safe. But I won't prevent him doing what he thinks is right. And I hope the next generation of university students lines the streets of Ottawa to clap and shout thank you to the veterans of this generation, many years from now.