All year long we celebrate freedoms. Remember, remember the 5th of November. D-Day in June, remembering the desperate attempt at storming the beaches of Normandy, Pearl Harbour Day, V-E Day, Canada Day, Independence Day in the US, Bastille Day in France and many more in cultures around the world. They all serve to remind us of the pain of fighting, the destruction and loss, but today I remember with gratitude the men and women who saved us from Fascism in Europe. Yes, we were rushing to the defense of the mother countries; our own country had not been invaded but both of our founding nation had been invaded or attacked, brutally.
People still bravely go to the defence of their roots, trying to help out in the troubled places of the world.
The words of “In Flanders Fields” are engrained forever in my memory. For some reason I was the go-to girl for reciting the poem in school at the annual service. You didn’t read things out then; you memorized them. We didn’t have a holiday on Remembrance Day but we stopped everything, solemn words were spoken, the poem, was recited and 2 minutes silence was strictly observed at 11 a.m. In remembrance. There were two sets of words that stuck in my memory: “..scarce heard amidst the guns below”. I was a child who loved solitude and silence. The thought of guns that could silence the larks was horrific. The other is “Take up our quarrel with the foe, To you, from failing hands, we throw, the torch…”. I didn’t think of it as a figurative torch of freedom. I saw in my mind’s eye beat-up hands tossing real torches to those of us left. I think I was always afraid the torch would go out. How could we not carry on their fight? Every year for years I recited, trying not to cry in case the torches went out and likely worrying about the larks too.
The end of WWII was fresh in eveyone’s memory then and every adult had lost friends and family members in both World Wars. There were many old vets around from WWI who had been gassed or shell-shocked and of course, received no treatment or compensation in those days. My mother’s fiancé had been killed. My uncle missed the birth of his second son and the death of his wife because he was overseas flying missions with the RCAF. Both my Dad and my Mom’s father were farmers so they were not supposed to go. Even so my Dad tried. But he had varicose veins and they said no. I never noticed that they slowed him down but I might be secretly glad that he didn’t meet the fate of Mom’s first love.
The image above reminds me of so many of those old vets, my parents’ and my grandparents’ family and friends, and the young men that they had once been. I don’t know the source but have seen it in many posts this week. Let me know if you know.
Those people who went to war gave up everything, home, friends, family, education, jobs, to go to fight the Fascist regime that was trying to take over our home countries, the founding nations of our country, England, France and their Allies, the regime whose value system justified killing millions in “ethnic cleansing”. I have met Holocaust survivors, seen their tattooes and heard their stories. They celebrate their freedom every day, while eternally mourning the millions destroyed, most often including their families.
These images are from the Arnold Bauer Barach Collection, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives. They are of Bergen-Belsen, just one of many internment camps the Nazis ran. The first is a mass grave there. The survivors in the second photo are walking past piles of shoes. So many shoes, so many lives lost.
Canadian soldiers have since fought and lost their in lives in conflicts since then in Asia and the Middle East. They have acted as peace keepers and still do. They still have their bodies, physical and mental health destroyed in looking out for us all. We need to remember their sacrifices, give support to those who are still with us and rejoice that we have the freedoms that we have. Perhaps there is hope that one day people will end violence, will stop trying to tell others how to live, will stop being greedy and power hungry. Perhaps one day “We Shall Overcome”, but in the meantime, Remember. Don’t let it have been in vain.