A sa­cred day

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - NATHAN GIEDE

This Sun­day, the armistice that ended the Great War will reach its 100th an­niver­sary. As the guns fell silent over the waste­land they had made out of North­ern France, there were no spon­ta­neous erup­tions of tri­umph – in­stead, all sides crawled out of their trenches, and stared at what 52 months of to­tal war had wrought. Peo­ple were al­ready promis­ing “never again” long be­fore the war ended. As we gather to­gether this week­end, we will re­new our vow to that credo.

There is noth­ing as ubiq­ui­tously and uniquely

Cana­dian as our rev­er­ence for Nov.

11. Cer­tainly, other na­tions, par­tic­u­larly our fel­low Com­mon­wealth and Mother Bri­tain, have sim­i­lar cer­e­monies on the same date. But most also have days of ob­ser­vance for their armed forces or other wars specif­i­cally. For this Do­min­ion, the Great War, marked by com­mu­nal mourn­ing on Re­mem­brance Day, has no ri­val for sig­nif­i­cance any­where on our civic cal­en­dar.

It’s some­times said that at Vimy Ridge, Canada be­came a na­tion; what is in­dis­putable is that a coun­try as vast as ours gained a uni­ver­sal fo­cus and con­nec­tion due to four long years of bru­tal con­flict over­seas. There are dozens of hospi­tals that trace their ori­gins to treat­ing the men who came back wounded, and from the small­est vil­lage in the North to the largest cities in the South, stone ceno­taphs, with the names of the fallen in­scribed, stand at the cen­tre of daily life.

The bat­tle hon­ours earned in the First World War are what suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions of men at arms must live up to, and some reg­i­ments still carry patches or re­galia that can be linked to the de­ci­sions taken then. For that mat­ter, ev­ery sub­se­quent con­flict in­volv­ing Cana­di­ans has been a dis­tant rip­ple of 1918: on Juno Beach, at Kapy­ong, through­out the for­mer Yu­goslavia, and in Kan­da­har prov­ince, our sol­diers have con­tin­ued fight­ing their an­ces­tors’ Great War.

There is no space here to be­gin list­ing the ef­fects bloody trenches had on our lit­er­a­ture, arts, and cul­ture; in­deed, Canada is the heir of an un­for­tu­nate golden age, as ev­ery­thing that is not from our found­ing or con­tem­po­rary cul­ture in­evitably seems to be dated be­tween 1914-18 or there­abouts. It is not hard to trace our dark sense of hu­mour to the ab­sur­dity many must have seen in at­tri­tion; nor is it hard to see or hear the pain ex­pressed in can­vas or po­ems of the era.

So uni­ver­sal and deep is Canada’s rev­er­ence for Re­mem­brance Day, that even in our time of mad his­tor­i­cal re­vi­sion­ism, the Great War’s nar­ra­tive re­mains al­most un­touched. More suc­cess­ful con­flicts have been dis­cred­ited and en­tire cen­turies of ac­tiv­ity re­cast in the worst of pos­si­ble lights on spu­ri­ous ev­i­dence. But Nov. 11 re­tains the aura of a me­dieval holy day among our peo­ple, re­gard­less of back­ground – in­deed, it is one of our last uni­fy­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

The First World War left an in­deli­ble mark upon the Cana­dian soul; even a cen­tury later, this is still ap­par­ent, giv­ing it a nearly su­per­nat­u­ral qual­ity. What re­mains to be seen is how Nov. 11 will be ob­served as we cross the thresh­old far be­yond liv­ing me­mory, and what will be em­pha­sized as the reper­cus­sions of that con­flict con­tinue to af­fect us over time. Per­haps one day the hol­i­day will be pegged to a par­tic­u­lar week­day, re­gard­less of date, for con­ve­nience.

But if I were to haz­ard a guess, a cen­tury from now there will still be peo­ple gather­ing at graves and ceno­taphs through­out our coun­try on Nov. 11. Some of them will bring items to lay at the site; oth­ers might vol­un­teer to stand watch, an­cient Lee-En­fields in hand; some­one will at­tempt Last Call and Reveille or puff­ing a tune on bag­pipes; and cer­tainly, a man of the cloth or a revered lay­man will say a word for the glo­ri­ous dead and pray for peace on Earth.

In short, Re­mem­brance Day’s en­durance is thanks to the hu­man con­di­tion, par­tic­u­larly in our coun­try which has so few sa­cred things left. We mourn, hope, and pray, lest we for­get.

But if I were to haz­ard a guess, a cen­tury from now there will still be peo­ple gather­ing at graves and ceno­taphs through­out our coun­try on Nov. 11.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.