“Flanders Fields the poem of the war,
poppies noticed never before.
On our chests,
To honour their deaths
Help us remember,
Lest We Forget.”
Portion of a poem written by Ivan Sun, one of my students.
I observe the two moments of silence every year. I observe the many photos, posts, articles and programs that appear to remind us of sacrifice, of a world, a whole world, that went to war on foreign soil. I observe the stories etched in the faces of each veteran. I observe those who wear poppies and those who do not. I observe by asking questions, by forging connections between the past and by analysing its impact on the present. This year, I encouraged my students to write their thoughts on remembrance for the annual Royal Canadian Legion poetry contest, the same one I entered as a student at St. Paschal Baylon.
Many of those students are recent immigrants to Canada and are just learning of our history. All of them had the same questions, the same challenges in engaging with the assignment. “I don’t know anything about war. How do I write about something I can’t relate to?”
This led to discussions about sacrifice, about what remembrance means to them. It led to research: watching videos, imagining what it would have been like to switch places, filling in the spaces where no words existed, looking at the faces and photos of war and diving deep into the characters that stared back at us.
The results were amazing.
“Fighting through fear.
Passionate to bring victory near.
Living in intense conditions.
Determined to complete every mission.
On my shirt a red poppy I’ve pinned.
In remembrance of my ancestor’s kin.
And those who’ve laid down their lives for us all,
lest We Forget, your names we recall.”
Portion of a poem by Andrew Li
I am happy to say that our schools are doing a tremendous job in balancing remembrance of bitter wars with as sense gratitude for the peace that followed and the peace we sustain. They have instilled in children, myself included, who have not experienced war first hand, a sense of respect and solemnity, a need to, even when they have graduated from the system, to bow their heads and reflect on November 11th.
Yesterday, I attended a beautiful ceremony of Remembrance at Samuel Brighouse Elementary School in Richmond, BC. Students from Kindergarten to grade seven filed into the gym in silence and remained silent throughout the service. It began with bagpipes and poetry and the singing of O Canada. It melts me every time I hear a school of children, from so many different backgrounds singing about keeping our land glorious and free. Their voices are the voices of the future and they were harmonious.
Next, seventeen students from different backgrounds came forth and as candles were lit, they each said the word for peace in the language of their kin. It was a true metaphor for Canada and where we are today, so many voices, all understanding and reflecting on one word…peace.
There was a trumpeter who played the last post and the reveille, poetry, videos and music. Every student was involved and they created awareness, respect and solemnity around commemorating the past and envisioning a peaceful, inclusive future.
I leave you with this, today. In the words of a grade five student.
“I think you’d be pleased to know that on Remembrance Day we spend a moment to recall your stories.
I think you’d be pleased that we wear poppies to look back on the battles you lost and won.
I think you’d be pleased to know how grateful we are, even though you are not standing in front of us today.
We will not forget.”
Segment of a poem by Farrah Fang.
Enjoy the photos, they were all taken by me on our visit to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France this past April.