The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month — Lest We Forget

For so many people it is a most poignant time of the rolling year; it’s not Christmas, nor Easter, nor Hanukkah nor Ramadan, Visakah Puja, Diwali, nor Vaisakhi. It is Remembrance Day. November 11th. A time to pause in our busy lives and remember, to pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. A time to pay tribute to all those who have answered the call of their nation, our nation and gone to war.

It is a time to give thanks to all the men and woman who have answered that call and through their sacrifice have given us the ability to live the lives we do today though theirs were changed forever. Lest we forget…

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was 1918 and at that precise moment the guns fell silent and that terrible conflict, the war to end all wars,World War I, was over. But mankind being what it is has never been able to heed the words of George Santana who said: “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” WWI was not the war to ends all wars and conflict continues unabated. And probably will continue to do so as long as there are two people left on this earth.

But the ultimate irony is that even in spite of terrible conflict, of man visiting death and destruction upon his fellow man the beauty and the triumph of the human spirit prevails as in the haunting artistry of the written word that has risen like the Phoenix from the flames and ashes of a living hell. Here follows a brief sampling of that indomitable spirit. Lest we forget…

The following iconic poem, perhaps the most famous of all battlefield poems and a symbol of Remembrance Day itself was written by a Canadian army doctor, then Major John McCrae, MD, who later rose to the rank of Lt. Col.:

In Flander’s Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flander’s fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, tho poppies grow
In Flander’s fields.

The next poem is one of excruciating pathos. Written by Australian Scot Eric Bogle, it was made into one of the most haunting songs of remembrance ever recorded. It is Australia’s young men pitted against the young men of Turkey at the Battle of Gallipoli during WW I. It chronicles the horrors of war and emphasizes in no uncertain terms the fact that the horror knows no boundaries, effecting the sons and daughters of every nation regardless of uniform:

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Now when I was a young man, I carried me pack, and I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback, well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915, my country said son, It’s time you stopped rambling, there’s work to be done.
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun, and they marched me away to the war.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda, as the ship pulled away from the quay
And amidst all the cheers, the flag-waving and tears, we sailed off for Gallipoli
And how well I remember that terrible day, how our blood stained the sand and the water
And of how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay, we were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk he was waiting, he’d primed himself well. He shower’d us with bullets,
And he rained us with shell. And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.

But the band played Waltzing Matilda, when we stopped to bury our slain.
We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs, then we started all over again.
And those that were left, well we tried to survive, in that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive, though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head, and when I woke up in my hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead. Never knew there was worse things than dyin’.

For I’ll go no more waltzing Matilda, all around the green bush far and free
To hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs-no more waltzing Matilda for me.
So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed, and they shipped us back home to Australia.
The legless, the armless, the blind, the insane, those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay, I looked at the place where me legs used to be.
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me, to grieve, to mourn, and to pity.

But the band played Waltzing Matilda, as they carried us down the gangway.
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared, then they turned all their faces away
And so now every April, I sit on me porch, and I watch the parades pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march, reviving old dreams of past glories
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore. They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, what are they marching for? And I ask myself the same question.

But the band plays Waltzing Matilda, and the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear. Someday no one will march there at all.
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda, who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by that billabong, who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

And finally for this moment of Remembrance, 2010, an incredible piece of work that grabs at one’s heart and which has become a mantra to pilots and is offered here as a tribute to, and in memory of pilots of all generations. It is written by Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee, No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. He was killed on December 11, 1941:

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Lest We Forget…



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9 Responses to The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month — Lest We Forget

  1. John Fritz of Churchill's, North Vancouver, B.C. says:

    This is awesome!

  2. Bob Davis in Alberta says:

    I went to the web-site and read your moving tribute to those who gave their lives for our freedom.

    Because Nov 11 is derived from the Armistice ending the 1st world war, it made me think back to my Dad……… 1917 he tried to lie his way into the Canadian forces at the age of 15………alas, because it was the small town of Keewatin, Ontario, they knew him and his age so instead of enlisting in the forces, they asked him to become a ‘soldier of the soil’, where he spent time on a Saskatchewan farm as so many of the farmhands had gone overseas…….(imagine……a population of 7 or 8 million in Canada and 700,000 men and women served, and just under 70,000 lost their lives……the other amazing fact is that 50% of the infantry came from the Canadian West). Of course, if my Dad had tried to enlist in a larger city where he was anonymous, he would have probably made it as many like him made it.

    Fast forward to 2002, and, the saga of Omar Khadr……….a ‘child soldier’ at the tender age of 15 ……….it’s all ironic, isn’t it?

  3. Kent Beveridge in British Columbia says:

    Jack, Well done. Too many people of my generation have forgotten the importance of Remembrance Day!! I will be taking my grandfather out to the Cenotaph tomorrow morning. Lest We Forget!!

  4. Graham Clarke onboard mv Orion alongside in British Columbia says:

    Two verses. Two countries. Two causes. Two foes. One cause Allied. One cause Axis. One indomitable spirit. One fatal reality. One sense of wonderment…

    …One verse Allied:

    For King and Country, terrified
    They sallied forth
    And died


    …One verse Axis:

    When Bismark keeled over, propellers still turning
    Aft turret still firing, such valour, such burning
    All was lost

  5. Bob McKerron in Ontario says:

    Thank You Captain!

    This time of year always reminds me of my Dad who served in the Navy. I remember all my uncles served in one of the forces. We were lucky as all returned….all of my relatives who served were volunteers signing up to ensure our way of life for the future.

    I salute all of those who served and have a special place in my heart for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

  6. Arnie Thompson in British Columbia says:

    Jack , very good blog.I always remember
    to have 2 min silence at 11:00 a.m. nov 11
    Thanks for the blog.

  7. Steve Parkinson in Britiish Columbia says:

    Well Done Jack. A very moving tribute

  8. Bill Rafter in British Columbia says:

    Jack “Captain Canada”
    I put a customer on hold this morning @ 11 am, to remember .
    He didn’t need to know why.
    Thanks for helping me remember.
    Lest we forget.

  9. Every year, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the two Reemans, one who nearly gave his life in the service of his country, England, and one who was born in a peaceful Toronto nine years after the war’s end, stand on our doorstep and listen for the last chime to die away. The lieutenant-commander sounds the “Still” on his bosun’s pipe, and two minutes of deep silence pass, while the White Ensign of his Royal Navy and my Canadian flag fly together from the upstairs window. I always cry in the stillness, and silently signal to him the end of the two minutes as the distant gun from the Territorial Army is heard a mile away in the village. The naval officer, my husband and hero, sounds the “Carry on!” and the moment passes for another year. But for him, Remembrance Day is every day, and in his work he honours the memory of those who fought for our freedom. I thank him for fighting for mine, and you, Jack and Christine, for giving voice and presence to the “true patriot love” too many of us Canadians feel so deeply, but are too reticent to display.

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