Remembrance Day

Today is a day that was set aside by King George V to remember those who had been killed in the line of duty during World War I. November 11, 1918 was the day on which the fighting in the First Great War ended; it is also the date that has been used to remember those who died while fighting for their country in World War II.

English: A remembrance poppy from Canada, worn...
A remembrance poppy from Canada worn on a lapel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing up in South Africa, I did not realise the meaning of the red poppy that people wear on their lapels leading up to Remembrance Day. I have now learned that it is a symbol for the blood that was spilled during the World Wars. The poppy was chosen because of the poem, In Flanders Fields, written by a Canadian soldier named Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. During the First World War, poppies bloomed on the fields in Flanders where the most bloody battles were fought – an experience that McCrae refers to in his verse:

The video clip, not only includes a reading of McCrae’s war poem, but also shows the hauntingly beautiful fields of poppies in which the trenches were dug.

Remembrance Day does not seem to have prevented war: World War II was fought 27 years after hostilities ceased for World War I. In our modern-day world, other wars are being fought: men and women are dying for a cause in countries far from home; a cause that has been deemed important by those who hold power.

Makes me wonder on the effectiveness of this day. Has the World War experience become too far removed from modern men and women? Does this day need to be reinvented so that the purpose of it may touch the hearts of the young who have had no personal experience of the heartache and butchery suffered during the “war to end all wars”?

What are your thoughts on Remembrance Day? 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

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35 thoughts on “Remembrance Day

  1. I am a veteran of the United States Air Force. I served in Europe, during the cold war, as a Russian Linguist in Air Force Security Service. My favorite remembrance on what we now call Veterans Day, is of our elementary school principal, Florence S. Anderson, gathering us outside in the playground while she recited Flanders Field. At that time, which was about 1952, most of our teachers were female. Most had lost spouses, fiancees, or lovers during World War II. I had not thought about it at that time, when I was 7 or 8 years old but having lost friends from the Air Forces and other branches of the military, I grieve at Memorial Day (originally called Remembrance Day and again at Veterans Day. Thank you for this beautiful post.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. If only we could hear more from people like you who have experienced war, then this day could have so much more meaning for those who have not been touched by the death that war brings.

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    1. How I wish in South Africa children could be made aware of these wars and of the senselessness of it. What I like about Remembrance day here is that children from as young as 4 are slowly introduced to the meaning of the day and what it is meant to represent.

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  2. Thank you for sharing. I remember the many classmates that died in the Vietnam War. I remember them in sorry for the young lives lost but also in gratitude for their sacrifice for the freedom we have today.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

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    1. And it is that which I shared with my class this week: they are free to live in their houses, to live the lives they do because people have fought against those who would take small freedoms away from us.

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  3. I think of the uncles who I never got to meet, and of the my great aunt and uncle who never recovered form the loss of their only son. I can still picture in my mind his handsome face looking at me from the photo they always kept on the piano which he loved to play.

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  4. Colline,thank you for this beautiful post! I am going to share on my facebook page.
    Richard B, thank you for your service and beautiful story!

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  5. It is sad indeed that South Africa has grown to believe that this was none of their affair, and to let the day go so largely disregarded these days. I remember when it was otherwise: as a late child, I had parents who were alive during WW1 and for whom 11th November was a sacred occasion. A march written by my mother used to be played by military bands on Poppy Day, as we knew it.
    It should still serve as a day on which to reflect on those who have died to give others freedom, and then how the lessons learnt are disregarded and evil arises to challenge again.

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    1. It saddens me too. There have been so many other wars and so many other fights since the Great War. If we forget about them, then we will lose the ability to think of a world filled with freedom and peace.

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    1. A world in which oppression would be the norm I think. All one needs to do is think on those who were toppled over by those who fought. The first one who comes to mind is, of course, Hitler.

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  6. I agree with you all the way. In SA we did not really know about this day of remembrance. Here in NZ every year they or we remember these wars. At the moment prince Charles and Camilla are here to participate in the day.

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    1. And to think that South Africa was also a part of the commonwealth; and had men who fought in the two world wars. I wonder when the decision was made to ignore this world-wide day.

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  7. This time of year always has mixed feelings for me–sad for all of the lost men and women but proud of their bravery and appreciative of their sacrifices for their countries.

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  8. Sometimes lives were used to pay for the peace and freedom we enjoy today to remind us that they should be valued like priceless gems and protected at the expense of lives (again) if necessary. Loved and enjoyed reading your post.

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  9. Wow, Colline. Powerful post. Interesting comments by those who have written in response above. I, too have conflicted feelings about November 11th, poppy day/Rememberance Day. As a child a recall each November 11th where we would stand for one minute in silent solidarity for those who were killed during war, had fought for our country in those wars. It had a huge impact on me and it is an important reminder that war is a daily reality for many in other countries.

    But, I wish we would re-invent Rememberance Day.

    I wish we could also remember the casualties of war and the collateral damage to those who did not ask for war in their own countries, as well as the death of the enemy soldiers. We live in a world that has been portrayed by those in power as ‘us versus them’ at the expense of our humanity. I believe that the reasons for declaring war on other countries is far more complex than the proclaimed reasons fed to us by government forces. And I think there is much we do not know or understand about the practices of those in power in our own countries.

    My heart aches for those left behind, moms and dads, spouses and other family and friends who grieve for the loss of their beloved one , no matter which country or side they are on.

    Funny, someone who knows my heart lies with aid work and overseas charitable groups such as Doctors without Borders, recently suggested I might want to work with the Armed Forces as a medic. I took a look at their website and had to laugh at myself. They say in their website that as a medic, you are trained in the ways of war handling weaponry and are a soldier first. Since I would be appalled to ever cause anyone injury or harm…’First, do no harm…’, I suddenly pictured myself in the position of being expected to use a weapon, possibly injuring someone, then immediately dropping the weapon after discharging it, running over to the injured person in horror and with both hands cradling my own face, exclaiming in agony, “Oh my God, I just hurt you!”, dropping to the ground and administering aid. Needless to say, I don’t think I’m cut out to be a soldier/medic!

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    1. I agree with you Darlene. War is not something I would agree to. War seems to be a tool that is used by powerful men to cement their power; and to ensure that others follow their will. Reminds me a little of the bully and his entourage – except war is on a much bigger scale.

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  10. I wonder if there should not be a month or at least a week of photos of the devastation and horror of war. Yes gruesome and gory, but perhaps that is what we need to stop this mindless killing of our brothers and sisters! Yes! Mindless! How can anything be more important than having a home with both parents, security and peace?

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    1. This is so true. To many I think the idea of war is far removed as it is something not not many of us experience. If we did, if it were more real to us, maybe then the senseless killing would stop. But then maybe it wouldn’t – think of how long the war took to stop in Mozambique.

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  11. My father saw a lot of wars: WW2, Korea, South East Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. He rarely spoke of his experiences.
    When I was growing up in Canada, Remembrance Day was observed more fully: stores and schools closed; every village, town and city had some sort of a memorial to the fallen and wreaths to be placed. Veterans “sold” the poppies (poppies were free, but folks were encouraged to leave a donation.)
    We all observed a minute of silence on the 11th hour of the 11 day of the 11 month — when the guns finally went silent in 1918.
    A lot of that has subsided as the number of veterans dwindles, and succeeding generations don’t really understand the sacrifice that was made.
    In the USA, November 11 is a shopping holiday as much as it is about parades, laying wreaths, and remembering the fallen. Because the US is “at war” (as are Nato countries, including Canada), there is the haunting feeling of there never being peace. Even peace keeping takes victims.
    But then there are so many places in the world where people don’t know peace. I think of them on the 11th too.
    Thank you for the post.

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    1. I am relatively new to Canada and its practices (Remembrance Day is not celebrated in South Africa). I have noticed in the last few years that in addition to the WW veterans, the soldiers who have fought/are fighting in the present day wars are acknowledged. For this veteran day, a soldier who fought in the Gulf war came to speak to the children at the school I was at.

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      1. A new generation is learning the lessons of war. And, certainly in the US (been here almost 10 years), the poor treatment of returning soldiers. At least PTSD is being recognized and organizations have been trying to step in to help.

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        1. That is good to hear. I am not a fan of war and believe it goes against everything humanity should be. It saddens me to think of these young men and women unwittingly playing a part in a process that is dehumanizing.

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          1. The US is in a particularly difficult situation. The scars of Viet Nam were reopened with Desert Storm. 9/11 remilitarized the nation. There aren’t the same protests against US’s presence in the Middle East as when it was South East Asia. But, there is a segment of the population who are tired of war, and worry about the civilians caught up in the conflict.
            In a Canadian perspective, peace keeping was seen as helping stop the destructive nature of war. It’s much different to participate (even with Nato) as combatants.

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