In Memory

Today, seriously senior veterans will sit for hours in front of our national cenotaph. Ottawa’s weather on Remembrance Day usually offers a nasty choice: wet and chilly, overcast and cold, or clear but even colder. Today we have the latter.

Today’s images were taken last year in a happier season altogether.

4-photo collage of iconic Canadian images of remembrance Today is the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended WWI. As a fair-weather photographer, I have trouble even imagining the horrors of trench warfare. Even if I were inclined to glorify or sentimentalize that war or any other, this year it would seem especially inappropriate. The Silver Cross Mother is the parent of a soldier who killed himself three months after he got home from Afghanistan.

The members of the Canadian Armed Forces that I know, active and retired, don’t glorify or sentimentalize war. But they do institutionalize the act of remembrance. I think that’s the least I can do, too, honouring all those who fought and suffered, all those who died, and all their families.

There’s a new exhibit at the London Imperial War Museum that lets visitors both feel and hear a recreation or interpretation of what it was like when the guns finally fell silent.

Read the background here

Listen to the Armistice Interpretation here


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8 Responses to In Memory

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind (which I think is turning in my Bible) suggests that armies are perhaps the best illustration of what he calls the “group-is gene” — our desire to form community, and to be absorbed into it to the point where we no longer feel like individuals but parts of a larger whole. (it’s a very interesting chapter; churches should read it.) You have had much closer acquaintance with the military life than I have, but I suspect that what most military survivors remember is not the guns and the shells, but the sense of unity, of camaraderie, that they once had. And I also suspect that a lot of the PTSD experienced when people return home is the shattering realization that society does not share that sense of oneness.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – I don’t know the psychology of PTSD – and maybe it’s as individual as the individuals who suffer from it – but there is a strong sense of community in the military, and it often continues after retirement.

    • I’ve read about and heard soldiers say that once they got there, they found they weren’t fighting for some abstract ideology or nationalism but for each other, their mates (or, their new tribe).

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Barbara – Yes, that makes sense to me, on two fronts. First, it would make sense to train to instill that response, I believe. The reaction to help a friend/buddy on whom you also depend would be far faster and more reliable than doing something dangerous for an abstract principle, no matter how devoutly held. Second, I’ve seen analogous reactions (I won’t claim similar) in business teams, where people work long, hard hours because they won’t go home when their team-mates are still at it. None of them are doing it for shareholder value.

  2. Tom Watson says:

    A few years back I read Timothy Findley’s novel “The Wars.” You could feel exactly what it would be like in the trenches. I heard Findley reading from another book so, afterwards, I asked him how he captured a sense of the trenches with such intensity, as it was clear that he himself had not been in World War I.

    He said: two things.
    1. His uncle had been there and had written descriptive letters.
    2. In a cold, rainy November week he dug a trench on the rural property where he was living, and determined to live in that trench the entire week. He remained in that trench 24/7 for the week and said that at the end of it he would have done anything…including killing someone…to get out of there.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Oh my word. Good for him. That kinda captures it, doesn’t it?

    • Yes, I had been thinking just yesterday (seeing some footage) that the trenches were so bad, the men were probably eager to “go over the top” just to get out of them.

      And Trump didn’t honour them because: rain. Everything he brags he’s going to do should be tagged with “weather permitting”. Suspect he and Putin had a war council meeting for the four officially unaccounted for during the ceremony at the cemetery.

      So proud of Trudeau for his statement.

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