Every year on November 11, at 11 minutes past 11 AM, Canadians pause in a silent minute to remember the men and women who served, and continue to serve the country during times of war, conflict and peace. This moment coincides with the Armistice Day which marks the date and time when armies stopped fighting World War I on November 11 at 11 minutes past 11 AM in 1918. In the United States this day is called Veteran’s Day and is also observed on November 11. On this day in Canada at 11 minutes past 11 o’clock, all the buses and trains will stop, the fire engines will sound their sirens for a minute as a mark of respect to all the fallen soldiers.
During the Remembrance week- November 4 to 11, all the flags fly at half-mast; all the buses have ‘Lest We Forget‘ signboards, most of the shops, restaurants and malls display banners and posters to honour the soldiers and veterans.
The Remembrance Day is observed to honour veterans who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. More than 2.3 million Canadians have served our country in this way, and more than 118,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.
On Remembrance Day, we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they fought hard to achieve. All the buses ply with the sign ‘Lest We Forget’; all the shopping malls and coffee shops put up posters in appreciation of the services rendered by our soldiers; cadets and veterans sell the ‘Red Poppy’ – made by disabled Veterans – to be pinned on the dresses.
Canadian Prime Minister and the entire cabinet appeared on media for the duration of remembrance week, wearing the Red Poppy. In India, on the Armed Forces Flag Day (07 Dec), children pin the flags on our President and the Prime Minister and Chief Minister, and for the next event you see them without the flags on their chests.
Poppies are worn as the symbol of remembrance, a reminder of the blood-red flower that still grows on the former battlefields of France and Belgium. During the terrible bloodshed of the second Battle of Ypres in the spring of 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, wrote of these flowers which lived on among the graves of dead soldiers:
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
The national ceremony is held at the National War Memorial in Ottawa presided by The Governor General of Canada with the Prime Minister, other government officials, representatives of Veterans’ organizations, diplomatic representatives, other dignitaries, Veterans as well as the general public in attendance.
School is where the children usually first learn about who and what Remembrance Day is for. Schools go into why we need to give respect and they will usually have an assembly and a veteran or a serving soldier addresses the students. After the assembly, the first hour in class is spent on discussing the sacrifices made by the soldiers and the students are urged to come up with the details of family members, relatives or friends who served or are still serving with the armies around the world.
Our son Nikhil, studying in Grade 9 In 2010, was attending such a discussion. The class consisted of ‘Gifted Children’ and had about 70% of students of Oriental origin, 25% Caucasians and he was the lone Indian. Every other student were narrating the details of their parents, uncles, grandparents, granduncles, etc who served in the First and the Second World Wars and other military operations. Nikhil did not want to be left behind and he stood up to give his account.
Nikhil narrated the few instances of his life as a kindergarten student which he spent in Devlali and the interactions he had with the soldiers and also about various events he had witnessed like the artillery fire power demonstration.
Military history being taught in Canadian schools is based on the Canadian participation in the World Wars. He did a lot of research on the military history aspects and had bought a dozen books on the subject. In those days, Nikhil earned $50 pocket money a month for helping me out with the household chores like vacuuming, cleaning, washing of dishes, laundry, gardening, garbage disposal, etc. He used to use up all the money to buy books and always ended up with a bill much higher than the limit and I always gleefully paid it as it was for books. Now days he does not want any pocket money as he earns about $100 a week working as a swimming instructor and life guard at the city’s swimming pool.
Anyhow, it proved my current theory that a better reflection of a high-school student comes from the books he keeps than the friends he keeps.