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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month...

This is a photo of my father's spitfire landing on the first Allied runway established in France after the Normandy invasion. He's the pilot in the photo. An astounding image in several ways...(click to see larger)

World War I was first known as the Great War, or the War to End all Wars. It only got the "I" because of the war 20 years later that was give the "II". WWI officially ended at 11:00 am on the 11th of November 1918.

Remembrance Day is a big deal in Canada. For many. It's a sombre day, a day to gather around the cenotaph in village, town and city and to remember the young men who died before they were anything but young. It's a time to miss them and to grieve together. In Canada it's generally not a glorify-the-military and pump up the patriotism day. It's a day to remember.

I go to the ceremony every year, partly to not let history fade from memory and partly because both my grandfathers fought in the trenches in World War I and my father fought in WWII. The first war claimed more than 60,000 Canadians (of a population of six million then). It was arguably one of the more useless conflicts in recorded history. Both grandpas were on the front line, both were wounded - one with gas and one shot by a sniper. Both survived - of course, that's why I'm able to be here.

My father was a Spitfire pilot in World War II, or as some call it, the extension of the Great War (and that it took 20 years to grow another generation of soldiers). When he was 20 years old, he and his squadron flew over the beaches during the D-Day invasion. Only one of the 24 young men in 443 Squadron was older than 21 years old that day. In less than a year twelve were dead.

When I stand at the ceremony each November 11th, I recall my grandfathers and their quiet dignity (well, Bob wasn't so quiet). I also think of my father and what he had to endure before he was really a man. And as a parent I feel for every mother and father who has ever had a son (or daughter) in conflict, and especially those who learn that their beloved child is never coming home. It hurts more than humans can bear.

I abandon politics and my opinions about just and unjust wars etc. until November 12th.

Hi Gary
That photo and many others of your Dads spitfire are simple amazing. The spitfire always seemed larger than life to me growing up in the immediate post war era and marvelling at its prowess at air shows with my father and reading about it in Books such as “Reach for the Sky”. Your photo of the landing always seems surreal alongside those working farmers just before the momentous “D” day.

In Australia it’s the 25th April (commemorating the original landing in Gallipoli in WW1 in 1915) which is set aside for national commemoration known as ANZAC day which continued after the Second World War and subsequently has been extended to include all wars since.

WW1 claimed more than 60,000 Australians from a population of only 3 million then. It strikes me how much Canada and Australia have in common, in both peace and war with such similar economies, strong minerals, exchange rates and a heavy urbanisation towards the border and to the Eastern seaboard for Australia.
Best wishes
Nice post G-Man.

You'd think with all the talk here in the states that we'd have more respect for the sacrifice of our Veterans, but alas it amounts to nothing more than bumperstickers.

Oh, and Macy's is having a mattress sale.
A poignant, reflective day.
The bagpipes always bring on the tears.
While my Dad was still alive I tried to visit on Armistice Day since it also coincided closely with his birthday. The services were always quiet and very beautiful as the old soldiers got older and older. The young people were always very respectful.

I remember the futility of trying to explain the feeling to my American co-workers when I related that WWII was the last war Canadians had been involved in. Blank stares all round.

Yes, as Fairlane said, it's a big sale day at the department stores.
Amen to all that Gary. What always makes me wanna puke is the empty, thoughtless but thought AS so patriotic BS like "thank you for our veterans so we can have our freedom". As if. They fought for no freedom but the countries' they were not from (and they, btw, those countries respect and appreciate the veterans here for their real sacrifice. Korea, Vietnam and Iraq..just economic gain for the few..
Good post, G.
Lindsay, I thought of you today because I know you think about these things (and are a Spitfire buff too). I that Australia and Canada share many things, one of them their forming through wars in Europe.

Fairlane, Susan and Ingrid - yes, it's a different environment in the US, with a more militaristic and overtly (sometimes blindly) patriotic culture. And the big overlay... shopping! At the same time, there are those who work for the veterans, understanding that even in volunteer army, they are really serving their country.

I can't imagine the fallout from the vets from Iraq, especially if not well served for their physical and mental health.
I love the picture. It says so much.

"I also think of my father and what he had to endure before he was really a man."

That's the thing of it isn't it?
There is politics, and there is rememberance. Like sex and love, they are sometimes mistaken as being the same, but they aren't. Thanks Gary for remembering.
I left the politics and the rant out of my "granny" post too.

Seraphine said it well.

I like the name Remembrance Day better than our Veteran's Day. It isn't only the military who are victims to senseless war. I can remember them all.
The picture is fabulous, but so is your new profile pic!
Too bad WW1 ended in the Versailles compromise. If a different agreement would have been found at that time, Germany wouldn't have landed in the chaos of the Weimarer Republic and Hitler would have stayed to be a mediocre watercolor painter of architectural themes. But that is neither here nor there...
Thanks all.

Mary, it's particularly important to you these days - you must be counting them down until your son is home.

Seraphine - well said. Metaphors abound for you ... and art too.

Granny - yes, we're all vets in a certain way (at least those of us at a certain age :)

Zee - yeah, history is interesting - expecially the 'what if?" Personal history too.

Beth, bagpipes bring me to tears too - in the good way (as opposed to those who believe 'a gentleman is someone who can play the pipes... and chooses not to.'
What a moving piece. Well done, you.

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