Every year, I ask my students to write a poem or essay to submit to the Royal Canadian Legion’s essay and poetry competition.
Every year, I am astounded at how much they learn and how they find ways to connect to a time and place they have not experienced, but which has impacted the freedoms they take for granted today.
Every year, the theme is the same…remembrance.
This year, when we cannot gather as we usually do, take time to read, to reflect, perhaps even to write on what this powerful word means to you.
Below are two evocative pieces, a poem written by Isabelle Song, then in grade 4 and an essay written by Farrah Fang, then in grade 7. Both entered the Legion competition and both won first place municipally and regionally competing with students two years older than them. Both went on to the BC and Yukon provincial level, where Farrah did admirably and Isabelle won third place.
May their words help us to remember…
They Shall Not Forget
By: Isabelle Song,Grade 4
Mothers… they shall not forget the bright smiles of their sons as they darted up the lane into their waiting arms.
They shall not forget how tears streamed down their faces as they sent them off to war.
They shall not forget how they anxiously waited for letters from them
telling them that they were safe.
They shall not forget.
Siblings… they shall not forget how their brothers protected them from bullies at school.
They shall not forget how their brothers said “I’ll go,” instead of them.
They shall not forget how their brother’s body still lies in some far away field under a white cross with a poppy.
They shall not forget.
Soldiers… they shall not forget the jokes he told to raise their spirits.
They shall not forget how he kindly shared his rations even though he was still hungry.
They shall not forget weeping over his dead body peppered with gunshots.
They shall not forget.
We… we shall not forget how selflessly they sacrificed themselves for us to live freely.
We shall not forget how they starved so we could eat square meals.
We shall not forget to remember.
We shall not forget.
I… I shall not forget to reflect during the two minutes of silence.
I shall not forget to wear my poppy proudly on my chest.
I shall not forget the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
I shall not forget.
Last Man Standing
By: Farrah Fang
“I trudged towards the trench, clutching my radio receiver, my exhausted feet dragging behind me. As I reached the bottom rung, the stench of blood mixed with smoke filled my nose. Scattered bits of shrapnel littered the dirt. My heart stopped beating when I realized I was the last man standing. I strained to see through the smoke and glimpsed a figure nearby. I stepped over corpses and turned over the cold body of my brother, a bullet buried in his chest. Memories swarmed in my head of Jack, how I’d taught him how to ride a bike, how he’d earned the nickname Shortcake because he was barely five foot five. He’d always been there for me. I’d vowed to protect him. Tears streamed down my face. I dug into his pocket and pulled out the letter we all wrote as a last letter to relatives. I stuffed it in my pocket and was getting ready to carry his body when a bullet went through my neck.”
“No longer fit to fight, I was sent home. Mum read Shortcake’s letter, clutching it to her heart, trembling.The twinkle in her eye disappeared and she fell into a silence that lasted for months on end. I tried to pull every memory of him from my brain and scavenged for every photo I had of us together to help us remember as much of him as possible.”
“When the war finally ended, I stood in my uniform at the first remembrance ceremony, acknowledged as the only one who had made it back from my unit. I clenched my quivering fingers around the black and white photo of my brother and I outside our favorite alley in the city, both smiling. I pinned it to the center of my poppy on top of all the medals and badges.”
“The gold and silver could not bring back my brother nor the twinkle in my mother’s eyes. Being the last man standing wasn’t something to celebrate without my brother beside me. I’d always imagined Shortcake and I standing together at one of these celebrations, now there is just an empty space in my heart.”
We had reached the cenotaph. I wheeled my great grandfather to the front row. I went with him to the remembrance ceremonies every year in the city square. He pointed a finger at a name engraved in stone, Jack Abbot.
“When I am gone, you must do the remembering.” He unpinned the poppy that had the photo of Jack and gave it to me, insisting that I needed it more than he did.
I felt the weight of all his memories in my hand.
Those were beautiful. They left tears in my eyes.