In every city, every village, every small town, in every hamlet throughout Canada you can see them: grey stone monuments, earnest statues, plaques with names engraved in neat rows. Time and the weather have not always been especially kind to these memorials. And many people only seem to notice them once a year, on November 11… if then.
Yet the names on the memorials belonged to real people. They were boys who lived, who loved, who laughed and cried: they had hopes and dreams and they probably planned to grow old, surrounded by kids, quietly resting in the warm sunlight.
They never got the chance.
Instead they went away to serve in confusing, desperate, bloody wars. They were alone and often terrified. Despite it all, despite everything, somehow they held the line, and they carried on because… well, because that is what a soldier does.
There may be no way to fully understand the reasons we continue to observe Remembrance Day, unless, perhaps, it is to visit one of the cemeteries where thousands of those bold, brave boys are buried.
I travelled to Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, several kilometres from Juno Beach where Canadian soldiers fought their way ashore on D-Day. Beny-sur-Mer holds over 2,000 graves, uniform white markers indicating each boy’s resting place. Decades after that War, there are now gentle trees arching overhead, bright flowers, sweet rose bushes, and grassy paths winding among the stone rows. Beny-sur-Mer is actually a beautiful place, carefully tended and maintained, as all our Canadian cemeteries in France are…and will be forever.
Each white marker bears a boy’s name, his age, his company, the date he fell. The Canadian government allowed families to place a line of their choosing on every memorial to a son, husband, brother, father, friend. The simple words on these white stones, better than many a lengthy speech, make clear the true meaning of Remembrance Day.
“Our darling, God’s will be done. You are ever in our hearts.”
“My dear son – I love you still. And will always.”
“My boy did his very best. He gave his very best.”
Some markers only carry words the ancient words: “Greater love hath no man…” Take some time this November 11, 2019, to pause, and to perhaps remember the price that freedom demands. – W.G.