Sunday, November 11, 2007

Today, November 11th is 'Remembrance Day' in most of the British Commonwealth. Originally named 'Armistice Day', in which name it is celebrated in France, New Zealand and many other Commonwealth countries it was originated by a Royal Proclamation on November 9th, 1919 by George V of England. Canada is the country that celebrates this holiday in the most serious fashion. In the United Kingdom two minutes of silence are observed on November 11th, but the main observance is held on the second Sunday of November. Remembrance Sunday where wreaths are laid at local war memorials at ceremonies organized by the Royal British Legion. These ceremonies are attended by representatives of the Crown, the Armed Forces and local governments. In Whitehall in England the ceremony is held in the presence of the Queen, the Royal Family. members of the Government and Opposition as well as dignitaries from the Armed Forces. The service is usually conducted by the Anglican Bishop of London, with representatives of other faiths as per managerial ruling class protocol. Various wreaths are laid to remember the war dead by representatives of the Commonwealth and the various armed forces and home defense organizations.
In Canada Remembrance observations are held on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year. If this falls on a workday (which it hasn't this year) it is considered a holiday. The status of the holiday varies from province to province for private business , provincial government employees and schools. In Western Canada and the Atlantic provinces it is considered a "Stat". In Ontario and Quebec it is not, though federally recognized corporations are allowed to consider it a holiday. Commodity trading organizations often do. The day is usually marked in schools on the day or the day prior by assemblies about the war dead, thought students today usually have little connection to events over 60 years in the past. In Canada today there is an attempt to put emphasis on more recent Canadian adventures overseas, even though these are often rather doubtful excursions as mercenaries of the USA in "wars" that are never "won" but merely fought to negotiation or exhaustion.
Aside from Bermuda, which contributed the first colonial unit to fight on the western front in 1915 and which had more soldiers per capita than any other Commonwealth country in WW1 , Canada takes the anniversary of Remembrance Day more seriously than anyone else in the world does. In the USA November 1th is celebrated as "Veterans' Day', but most of the observances occur on Memorial Day in May. In Poland November 11th is celebrated as 'Independence Day" for the national founding of Poland after WW1. In Germany the day is, of course, unknown, and it actually marks the beginning of the German Carnival. In the Roman Catholic and Anglican calenders Remembrance Day overlaps with the feast of St. Martin de Tours. He was a saint in catholic mythology who supposedly put aside his life as a soldier for that of a monk. Someone actually quite appropriate for this day.
The tradition of wearing poppies on this day dates to the writing of military doctor John McCrae's poem 'In Flander's Fields' on May 3rd, 1915. It is written in the form of a French rondeau. According to tradition it was written on a scrap of paper laid on the back of Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave in a trench on the western front, though this tradition is purely apocryphal. This poem gas achieved legendary status as few other poems have achieved. The text is as follows:
"In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amongst the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Great and rousing. My father avoided military service in WW1 as did so many Irish and French Canadians. His saying was that "why, when Britain has murdered millions of Irishmen should I get my legs shot off for the right of British capitalists to crack a whip across the backs of black men in preference to the rights of German capitalists to do the same." That pretty well sums up the goals of WW1, though the end results were somewhat different as Britain became a debtor nation to the growing US Empire.
The poems of John McCrae are available on the Project Guttenberg ebooks site under the heading of 'In Flanders' Fields and Other Poems' by John McCrae. His book is very jingoistic but still representative of his time. The Guess Who have written a parody of the poem in their song 'Friends of Mine'. It goes like this:
In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
between the crosses row on row
To mark the dead.
To Flanders Fields the hippies go
To smoke the poppies there below
and feed their heads.
Rather irreverent but appropriate 30 years ago and even more appropriate today when the powers that be are attempting to grab historical memory to justify their present wars of aggression. Wars today to secure oil supply are not in the same category as WW2. The best analogy is WW1 where the war was fought for imperial profit. Cracking a whip across the back of a black man as my father used to say. May Molly's little writings contibute to such a sensible attitude today.

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