I imagine that everyone who observes Remembrance Day has something specific that helps them to focus on the meaning of the day. Perhaps it is a famly member who served - or currently serves - in the Canadian forces, or who did so in their country of origin. Perhaps it is the opression that they fled from when coming to live in Canada. For me, most often, it is my parents and their experience as children in the Netherlands.
My parents met and married in Canada but were both born in the Netherlands and grew there up during World War II, when their country was occupied by Nazi forces. I heard about many of their experiences from that time when I was growing up. I heard how my aunt had a soldier's bullet hit her bicycle wheel. German soldiers annexed a house near my father's home, and as my Dad passed by he would hear the soldiers singing songs. My father was eventually able to recite those songs himself (I expect his parents weren't too pleased by that!). My Dad had a big family and they had little to eat, so tulip bulbs were part of their menu. He and one of my uncles would bike long ways to collect peat from bogs to bring back and burn in order keep their home warm. Some of my uncles were part of the resistance to the occupation. It wasn't at all easy for any of them.
One of the most memorable stories i heard came from my Mom. She recalls Canadian soldiers who liberated Holland coming through her home town of Makkum, in Friesland (in the north part of the Netherlands). When they came past her home they tossed an orange, a chocolate bar, and a pencil through their open window. All of these items were in short supply at the time and so were a real treat to have. They were also a sign that the war was truly over, and freedom had returned. (Click here for a nice overview of Canada's role in liberating the Netherlands.)
These memories came to mind, as they often do, as I attended this year's Remembrance Day ceremony at the East York Civic Centre. It was a moving event as always. I am very thankful for those who served, and currently serve, in the defense of our freedom. It was inspiring to see youth from a wide variety of backgrounds all standing and marching together in this cause. I am also very thankful to all civilians who work and advocate for peace. Peace isn't easy, but must be fought for, and that includes holding our own leaders to account so that we stay on a peaceful course, and use our role in the world to help other nations find, or return, to peace.
Here are some images from the day, including a few of Harry Kennedy, a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force who served three years in England as a Bombadier (later his title changed to "Air Bomber"). Harry returned to live on Coxwell Avenue after he returned from the war - a true East Yorker! It was a pleasure to meet him and his family. Many were thanking him and other veterans who were present at the ceremony.
Lest we forget.