Remembrance of Wars Past

Many peace activists can't quite say what bothers them about Remembrance Day. It seems oddly touching but irrelevant to our contemporary situation. There's a mutual aloofness between us and the old veterans who march on that day. Some of them regard peaceniks with hostility - as if halting the arms race would insult the war dead For our part, we cannot work up a spirit appropriate to this sacred occasion, when the rituals of civil religion are supposed to revive our flagging patriotism. Our sentiments are mixed: Though grateful for the sacrifices of the fallen heroes, we honor them halfheartedly, lest in so doing we glorify war or uphold their outmoded values. Patriotic loyalty to "our side," not "global consciousness" is expected in a Remembrance Day ceremony. We mainly watch and listen from a distance, as the drum roll sounds for a kind of war that is now but history. We experience the moral and sentimental ambivalence of Remembrance Day, 1985.

By Shirley Farlinger, Leonard Farlinger, and Kafitryn Rogers | 1985-11-01 12:00:00

As the haunting notes of "The Last Post" are heard at Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada, how do the thoughts of "old soldiers" and "new peacemakers" connect? In the '80s people in the peace movement lay their own peace symbol wreaths on cenotaphs, replace traditional poppies with peace pins and add prayers for peace to worship services on November 11. Peace Magazine interviewed people who have personal memories of that first Armistice.

Ex-Governer General Roland Michener recalled, "Canadian casualties in the First World War were greater than in the Second. Killed, I think, were 66,000 in the First World War and just less than that in the Second. We had very big forces in the field." Michener had joined up at age 18 as he says, "because I had to do my part."

Dorrie Bourdon recalled the same feeling of pride in her son when at age nineteen he came home and told her that he and his friends had joined up. "He was so excited," she remembers. The next year, 1942, he had his "wings." "I was proud of him. I remember thinking at the wings parade, they're just babies."

Those "babies" were the cream of three generations of Canadians decimated in two world wars and to a lesser extent in the Korean War. Greg, Dorrie's son, is buried in Dumbach, Germany. His Lancaster bomber was hit on a bombing mission and

Greg was killed parachuting down. His grave is marked, "Into the mosaic of victory are placed these precious jewels, our sons. The Silver Cross Women, at one time two thousand strong, visited the veterans in hospitals and helped the families of the deceased.

Mr. Michener, who presided over many Remembrance Day ceremonies on Parliament Hill recalls, "I was always very touched by the Silver Cross Mothers. Some had even lost two sons." Describing the ritual, he says, "A military band plays the Governor General's salute, a bit of O Canada and God Save the Queen, a hymn, and then the official mourners each lay a wreath at the foot of the Great War Memorial."

What is there about Remembrance Day 1985 that is different? We asked about the future and about any conflict that might be perceived between the peace movement and remembering.

"I've never felt any conflict," said Mr. Michener. I hate war. I think it's a dreadful way of dealing with things. It's unfortunate. It's part of man's nature to be violent if he can't succeed by persuasion or guile."

Perhaps this gives us a clue to a better future. Perhaps it's time to examine mans nature." Dorrie sees the problem differently. "One side is always trying to get ahead of the other. There's never money for this or that but there's always money for ammunition," she reminds us.

A Silver Cross Mother Remembers

D orrie Bourdon, 84, was a young girl in her native England when armistice was declared

"I was working in a store and I remember the gong went at 5 to 11 and everyone stood perfectly still for five minutes. Then they all ran out on the street, some wrapped in the Union Jack."

By Remembrance Day 1943, Dorrie had "After Greg was killed I just had this terrible pain in my chest. I couldn't cry. I remember thinking there were German boys whose mothers were getting notices. You can't help feeling sorry for them. They were fighting for their country too.

"It's a frail peace we have right now. I watch the news on television and it's so bad. Is this all we have after the sacrifice of our boys?

A Governor General Remembers

His excellency the Right Hon. Roland Michener, 85, enlisted in the air force in World War I at age 18 but did not see active service. He later went into politics, serving as Governor General of Canada from 1967 to 1974.

"We rejoiced on Armistice Day that the war was over. It was a great relief. I was here in Toronto. There was a false armistice first. I was over at the Air Force camp at Beamsville and I came back through Hamilton and they had all burst out in joyous celebration. It was a false alarm. Negotiations hadn't been settled. Then the real armistice took place while I was in camp and we were all given leave and we went to Toronto. You never saw such a sight! Everybody came out onto Yonge Street, sang and threw talcum powder at each other."

Two Veterans Remember

Frank Yattes has written a book about his experience in World War for his children and grandchildren. Like Frank Ormiston, he was at Vimy Ridge. He is 91.

"I did the best I could. That's all I can say. I only did what I thought was right. I've often thought that if I'd had had more brains I would have stayed away." (Yattes returned to the front after recovering from a shoulder wound.)

"When we went up Vimy, right around us were thousands, not one but thousands of French, all dead. Just the skeletons of them there. They lost twenty thousand men. They tried to take it and they couldn't."

Michael J. Olohan, 71, is a veteran of World War II and Korea.

"I was in Italy and Sicily during the Second World War so I had nothing to do with the Russians. But when the Korean war broke out I re-enlisted. It was my thinking, well, someone has to stop the communists! But how much do we actually know about the Russians? I don't think the average Russian wants war any more than we do!

"The children today have war toys they can teach us a few things about. They've got all the gizmos. The kids are so far ahead in mechanics and nuclear devices because of the toys they play with. We're lost. I gave up even thinking about it. I haven't even read about Star Wars."

Peace Magazine November 1985

Peace Magazine November 1985, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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