Remembrance Day, November 11, 2012

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.

November 11, the most poignant of all days. A time to reflect, a time to remember, a time to be thankful, and a time to cry.

Can anyone who has never had to suffer the terrible ravages of life’s ultimate conflict, the deadly sting of battle, ever truly understand the sacrifice made by those who have and the debt owed by those who have not? Lest we forget.

It has been said a thousand times, and a thousand times again that we owe our very way of life true to those, through every war and conflict down through the ages who have answered their country’s call and put themselves in harms way. Lest we forget.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of this 11th month citizens will gather at Cenotaphs across Canada, this great nation, to honour those members of the Armed Forces who have gone before, who have served us all, and who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. Lest we forget.

Greater love hath no man that he lay down his life for his friends.

But the ultimate irony is that even in spite of terrible conflict, of terrible turmoil, of man visiting death and destruction upon his fellow man great 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.

And also for this moment of Remembrance, 2012, 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 untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

As you stand at the Cenotaph listening to the speeches, as you stand silently reflecting upon the haunting trumpet notes of The Last Post,  or even if you are elsewhere, off upon your lawful occasion and stop your busy life for a moment to pay respect to a moment so great in its meaning it is spiritual, mark well the words of poet John Oxenham on the plaque at the monument at Beaumont Hamel in France where, on July 1, 1916 the 1st Newfoundland Regiment took to the field. 800 men left their trenches to join battle with the German foe. When it was over only 69 men answered roll call:

Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow!

Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,

And with head bowed , and heart abased, strive hard

To grasp the future gain in this sore loss! For not one foot of this dank sod but drank

Its surfeit of the blood of gallant men, who,  for their faith, their hope, — for Life and Liberty,

Here made the sacrifice – here gave their lives, and gave right willingly – for you and me.

From this vast altar-pile the souls of men sped up to God in countless multitudes;

On this grim cratered ridge they gave their all. And, giving, won the Peace of Heaven and Immortality.

Our hearts go out to them in boundless gratitude; if ours – then God’s: for his vast charity

All sees, all knows, all comprehends – save bounds. He has repaid their sacrifice: — and we — ?

God help us if we fail to pay our debt in fullest full and all unstintingly.

Lest we forget!

And from Mrs. Canada on Remembrance 2012:

During the month of June, 2011, we had the good fortune to travel to France and visit a few of the memorials. Words cannot explain the feeling of standing on the ground where battles were fought and lives lost. The immense number of headstones is staggering. Hearing and

reading about all the lives lost just does not bring full enough the emotions felt when standing in front of one headstone after another. It seems they never end. It is heartbreaking.

Words I found particularly touching taken from a headstone:

“Sleep Thy Last Sleep Free from Care And Sorrow

Rest Where None Weep”

…we all weep

Christine (Mrs. Canada)

Until God reckons up your talents, soldier, sleep. Thy duty’s done.

Lest we forget!


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