The common Remembrance Day phrase “Lest we forget” comes from the 120-year-old Rudyard Kipling poem Recessional. The Christian work uses the term — which is lifted from the Bible — to caution nations not to forget that the real source of their combat successes is God, without whom all their weaponry and training is useless.
In modern-day Canada, we understand the term as a caution not to forget the price paid by those who sacrificed to protect and preserve the liberties we now enjoy, lest we open the door to our own children and grandchildren being called to make such a sacrifice.
Overall, Canadians do a fine job of honouring and commemorating their fallen forebears from the “great” world conflicts of the 20th century. European soil is strewn with the distinctive white crosses that mark the graves of thousands whose lives were cut short in their prime.
Those who did return, their numbers dwindling before the inexorable march of time, are accorded places of honour and respect in our commemorations. Their stories are collected, recorded and shared with a sense of wonder at how life was lived — and lost — in a bygone era.
But does this sepia-toned nostalgia obscure the reality that Canadians continue to serve, often in harm’s way, even today?
Today’s edition of The NEWS contains a Remembrance Day section (beginning on page B5) with stories of two veterans who served in very different conflicts 65 years apart. William Cope of Errington, 97, fought in the Second World War. Justin Edwards, 32, fought in Afghanistan earlier this century and continues to serve as a military police officer.
Both volunteered for duty at age 22. Both left behind pregnant wives. Both served aboard tanks. Both wore the rank of corporal.
But a great deal changed between their respective conflicts, both in the way war is fought and in the way it is perceived by those back home.
As Cope pointed out, the Second World War was “total war,” with rationing of everything from gasoline to sugar.
Those who did not have a family member directly involved in the conflict certainly had neighbours who were. The war informed every facet of life.
Soldiers such as Edwards can now go off and spend entire tours overseas without the country really noticing. Fortunately, we are not currently embroiled in a major conflict of the kind that dominated the lives of Cope and all other Canadians in 1942. But that doesn’t make Edwards and the other men and women of Canada’s armed services any less worthy of remembrance this Nov. 11.
— Parksville Qualicum Beach News