(Many members of the older generation often wonder what young people know about Remembrance Day or what they have learned from their studies. Following is an essay prepared for the Courier by Chemainus Secondary School student Makenna Stobbe that documents how her understanding developed).
When I was little, I found it hard to wrap my head around the meaning of Remembrance Day. Everyone would tell me that it was about commemorating those who fought for Canada during times of war, but I never fully understood the impact those men and women had on Canada’s history.
I remember attending Remembrance Day assemblies each year at my elementary school on the days surrounding November 11 and wondering what it all meant. Prior to each ceremony, my teacher would hand out poppies to every kid in the class and give us instructions on how to wear them.
“Pin it on the left side of your chest,” the teacher would often say. “Right over your heart.” I remember looking at the little red flowers pinned to the shirts of my classmates and questioning their significance. Why poppies? Why did we wear them?
I remember being shuffled into the gym and sitting next to my classmates on the green floor. A voice would come from the front of the room asking us to rise for the singing of ‘O Canada.’ And once the national anthem had been sung, local veterans would march into the gym, bagpipes humming in the background.
They would come to share their stories with us. They often spoke about how they became involved with the military, how old they were when they joined, and their experiences as a soldier. Some of the things the veterans described sounded otherworldly to me as a child.
I couldn’t imagine a world where boys not much older than me had to become men overseas. I couldn’t fathom the idea of a world that wasn’t at peace. The very idea of war seemed abstract to me because I had grown up in the world these veterans helped create.
I had a happy, irenic childhood. I had never questioned whether or not I’d be able to grow up. And for that, I owe them my thanks.
It wasn’t until high school that I fully came to realize this. After entering the Legion’s poster contest for several years, and thinking hard about what it meant to be a soldier, the significance of Remembrance Day had begun to sink in.
When I was in the 10th grade, I was asked by my principal to read ‘In Flanders Fields’ at my high school’s Remembrance Day assembly. I remember going over the poem, practicing and probing for its meaning.
The line that goes, “We are the dead. Short days ago we lived,” struck a chord with me. It reminded me of the sacrifice that had been made to ensure the security of our country’s future.
Men left their homes and never returned. Mothers didn’t get to see their sons grow up. Daughters didn’t get to hug their fathers one last time. And brothers never got the chance to say goodbye.
Sometimes I think about what it might be like if there were to be another war. Would I volunteer? Would my friends? What sacrifices would have to be made?
Honestly, that thought scares me a little bit. But it’s a thought that the veterans know all too well. They made the ultimate sacrifice for Canada and the security of future generations. And sacrifices are continuing to be made by men and women who currently serve.
So, on Remembrance Day, wear a poppy. Take a minute to think about our brothers and sisters in arms. Remember them.