This Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was supposed to be the “war to end all wars,” according to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. He, along with his ally compatriots, sent many young men to tortuous deaths in muddy fields far from home.
To me that war had always been just a historical fact until a recent trip to Halifax including a tour of the city’s citadel brought home the horrors the men endured during the long-ago conflict. The day before the visit it had rained, so even the weather seemed true to form. Exhibits of trenches constructed of wooden planks flanked by walls of burlap with low ceilings demonstrated exactly how cold and claustrophobic the war theatre must have been. Add to that the deafening noise of the battle and the clouds of mustard gas, and I could only wonder how anyone managed to make it out of that hell. The mock-up of a first-aid station showed just how limited the resources for medical personnel were. It was miraculous anyone injured survived.
While my understanding of that war is mainly book learned, like many folks, I have a lot of personal memories of the people who fought in the next world war. For several years I attended ceremonies at the Gibsons Legion. During that time I got to know the heroes of the Second World War. Some would talk about their experiences, others preferred to make it a time of silent remembrance, a day to honour their comrades who didn’t return.
Over the years I made friends with many of them. I learned from them. They taught me that life goes on after tragedy. That being a contributing member of society was their reward for surviving. All of this I learned as an adult.
I have one very vivid memory of a Remembrance Day as a child. I was eight and almost a year had passed since my dad died in a construction accident. I couldn’t begin to understand why we were celebrating death. The two minutes of silence confounded me. What were we expected to do in that time? Now I finally have my answer. We need to ask ourselves, citizens in this world of turmoil, what it is each and every one of us can do to put an end to the hatred that spawns war – then do it. We must never celebrate war.