As a child, I had to sit through two Remembrance Day ceremonies. The first usually took place on Nov. 10 at my school. Hundreds of students would cram in the gym and sit quietly through the familiar reading of ‘In Flanders Fields’ and the 23rd Psalm. Amazingly, everyone was able to remain still – even the normally fidgety ones – during the minute of silence. Somehow, the sense that this was something REVERENT had gotten through.
The second service took place at the Elks Hall. For some reason, this service had even more impact. It followed much the same program with the reading of ‘thee’ poem and ‘thee’ psalm, but there was something more. All the aging soldiers were there, medals jangling on their breasts as they marched in as best they could and sat in a place of honour near the front. After the playing of ‘Reveille’ by our local trumpet player came what was – and still is – perhaps the most moving aspect of all: Reading the roll call.
There is something very poignant about hearing name after name being called; all young men and women who fell defending democracy. The other thing that made my heart flutter was the fact that I recognized most of the surnames. Many of these last names were repeated during my morning attendance at school. You see, I come from a small prairie town where everyone knows everyone. These were relatives of people I knew; fallen soldiers that claimed Mossbank as their home.
Added to this was the fact that my hometown of Mossbank used to be home to an airbase during World War Two. A lot of air force veterans trained there during the war years, so anything military was kind of a big deal. After the war, most of the activity was moved to nearby Moose Jaw, a much larger and better equipped air base. (And currently still the home of the famous Canadian ‘Snow Birds’.) When I was a child we could watch for free as the Snow Birds did much of their flight training over our town, and you could still go exploring many of the abandoned hangers. They have since all been removed and the former base is now the home of the golf course.
When I moved away from Mossbank I continued to make attending a Remembrance Day service a part of my life. We moved a lot, so I’ve been at many different types of services. Most contain the same basis elements, but some seem more reverent than others. Still, I find it one of the most touching ceremonies, despite the sense of ‘ritual’ that it most often contains. I inevitably shed a tear or two, and usually go home to spend the rest of the day in reflection. One year I was able to take my children back to Mossbank for Remembrance Day. They were all a lot younger then, but I think it may have helped them understand the deep meaning that the day continues to hold for me. As we listened to the ‘Roll Call’, I think they may have recognized a name or two, as well.
May we never forget that these are not just story book heroes that we read about years later. They were real men and women who sacrificed themselves for our freedoms. No words can really express the gratitude that we owe. Thank you.