Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World War Wednesdays: Remembrance Day 2014

World War Wednesdays: Remembrance Day 2014
     Remembrance Day is and always has been the most significant day of the year for me. Even as a child, I would put more thought into the time leading up to that day than I did my own birthday. I was that kid who glared at the rambunctious boys giggling during the moment of silence. In grade five I was chosen to co-host the annual assembly at Dutton-Dunwich Public School, and I considered that to be the highlight of my career.
     Now that I am almost twenty years old, very little has changed since then. One of the main reasons I came to university in Ottawa was to be a part of the  national ceremony at the War Memorial, not to mention the year-round landmarks and events for war commemoration. It is a great city in many ways, but for studying history it couldn't be better.
     When the first few poppies of the season begin appearing on peoples' coats in November, I always start feeling melancholy. What is already a major part of my life and daily thought becomes prevalent in the minds of most Canadians, and there is a feeling of shared reverence. But that's enough about me, I'll now talk about the day itself.
     This year especially has major significance for Remembrance Day and what it means to remember those who serve to defend us. With the tragic deaths of Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo just weeks prior, the feelings of sadness were magnified in Ottawa and the rest of Canada leading up to November 11th. The times were so uncertain, but it did not stop hundreds of people, myself included, from pouring into Ottawa's downtown core to be at the national Remembrance Day ceremony.
An OC Transpo bus the morning of the 11th with a special sign
     During my first time being at the ceremony last year, I was taken aback when I looked up and saw several snipers stationed on the roofs of the big office buildings downtown. This year, they were to be expected again, but for some reason seeing them that day added an additional sense of unrest and served as a reminder of what the area looked like on the day of the shooting.
     Before I discuss the ceremony itself, I must slightly digress onto the topic of Remembrance Day etiquette (it would not be Remembrance Day if I did not). There are two very simple things that I wish people would know about attending a ceremony and keep in mind when they do. The first, and most crucial, is that REMEMBRANCE DAY IS NOT A CLAPPING EVENT. There will be countless times during the ceremony where one would want to applaud a moving speech or entrance of a dignitary. It is so crucial that this does not happen. For one thing, clapping suggests a congratulatory gesture, one of appreciation. We do it at concerts and sporting events, but Remembrance Day is considerably different. Clapping undermines the solemn tone of a ceremony, making it seem as though it is a performance. It is crucial to remember what is being done during these ceremonies-- one certainly would not clap after a speech delivered during a funeral or when a priest walks into a church. It is of my observation that the majority of people in the crowd do recognize how inappropriate this is, but the few that do not will clap and the gesture will spread. They think that they are doing a grand thing of respect, but it is quite the opposite.
     The other thing which is a terrible mistake is for a man wearing a hat to not remove it during God Save the Queen and O Canada. People of the 'old school' way of thinking will agree when I say that there is nothing more frustrating to witness. If you are going to wear a hat to a ceremony (and this is only applicable to men in this case), then it is very important to remain vigilant and have that hat over your heart or at least off your head when standing and singing for your country among those who fought for it.
     I realize that these ideas may sound incredibly arbitrary and outdated. But, my goodness, if we can't even observe actions of respect on Remembrance Day, then what is there left to do it for?
     The ceremony begins every year with the arrival of the veterans' parade. This is one of the most moving aspects, as the whole country watches their brave men of all ages make their way to the War Memorial.

The arrival of the veterans with the red-coated guards in behind
The ceremony itself follows the traditional model, beginning with O Canada and The Last Post. In Ottawa, there is the firing of the first and second gun before and after the silence. After the Lament and Rouse, the Act of Remembrance is read in English, French, and the native Michif language amidst a flyover by military jets, followed by the remainder of the 21- gun salute. This year was a very significant one because the War Memorial was re-dedicated by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal Anne. She spoke during the ceremony, as well as other important dignitaries such as His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The wreaths were then placed at the Memorial, prayers were read by various denominations, and God Save the Queen was sung.

The wreath placed by Princess Anne, with her own written card

     Following the ceremony, the memorial is opened to the public so that poppies can be placed on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Hundreds of people lined up to do this.
The view looking down towards Elgin Street from the tomb of the Unknown Soldier

     For me, placing the poppy was the most significant part of the ceremony. The weather the year previously had made it impossible to do so, so I had waited a year for the experience. I was lucky to be near the front of the crowd for this. After I placed my poppy, I was overcome with emotion after having seen the tomb and memorial up close. I thought about my own personal connections to the Wars, through family members and family friends who fought and remember those times. I was so incredibly humbled and honored to be there that day, and it is not something that I will ever forget.
Placing my poppy

The tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Thank you for reading,

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