Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget

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.

Excerpt from In Flanders Fields
by Lt.-Col. John McCrae
(1872 - 1918)

When I was a kid, we used to watch elderly veterans in the Remembrance Day parade and think that one day the there would be no war veterans left to march, and then eventually no one left at all who remembered the Canadians who fought and died in wars. We didn't know, as kids, that there would always be more wars, ensuring a steady supply of veterans.

The Veterans Affairs timeline doesn't include it, but today you don't need a memory longer than a fortnight to remember fallen Canadian soldiers. We will hear nothing about the war for a few weeks, and then learn about the deaths of more of our soldiers. We see their pictures. As I page through the photos of the fallen, I wonder what they tell the recruits as they get photographed in front of the flag there. I don't think the army has a yearbook. An ID photo would be just the face. Do they know as they pose that this is the photo that will be released to the press if they are killed in action? Is there some other less macabre internal purpose to these nicely posed photos?

I can barely imagine flying that biplane, but I'd love to have a go, so long as I didn't have to go to war in one. I don't even like playing violent video games.
I like that they are carrying bicycles ashore for this landing. I wonder if there's anything that would be different about the modern airplane had the first airplane entrepreneurs not been bicycle mechanics.
The Veterans Affairs Canada does a good job explaining how and why Canadians observe Remembrance Day on November eleventh. It's a day to remember all soldiers who fought in all wars. The website also has a page full of photos to download, specifically for blogs and personal websites, but it's a little awkward to use because there are no thumbnails and not very descriptive names of the photo sets, just zipfiles. The photos on this page are from there, so I don't know who the people are, or where they were serving. I can tell by the filenames that the men with the horse and airplane are from the first world war, the beach landing is from the second world war and the colour photos are modern publicity stills.


Traveller said...

Originally, all those photos were sent to the paper in the home town of the soldier. Also, many times they take photos to accompany a report of some accomplishment like graduation from basic training or technical school. (Also to be sent to the home town paper)

Actually, there usually is a "yearbook" for your cycle through the larger training courses (ie, basic, advanced leadership, NCO academy, Squadron Officers School). However, they keep those photos around just in case there is significant news (good or bad) about a military member.

Aluwings said...

" I wonder if there's anything that would be different about the modern airplane had the first airplane entrepreneurs not been bicycle mechanics.."

I read somewhere that initially Orville and Wilbur had some questions about whether the rudder bar should be moved like handle-bars to push into the turn with the outside foot... Not sure if that's so. Did any early aircraft use such a setup I wonder?

Richard said...

When still in the Falklands, shortly after the end of the war, I was walking to my lunch, when I met a journalist I knew, with another bloke, who asked if he could take my photograph. I (vain!) agreed, and it was swiftly done. Later the journalist asked me if I understood. I didn't. The photo was taken just in case I stepped on a mine, and became, for a day, "NEWS"!

One advantage of military service that recruiters never, I think, mention, oddly, is the provision of a free funeral, complete with headstone, and maintainance of grave in perpetuity! Here that is worth at least £5k.

Powerin said...

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Dafydd said...

This day is a sombre one in the UK also . Many citizens will observe the 2 minutes silence at 1100 hrs (to the bewilderment of many others) - and generally the respect will permeate .

Your beach landing photo was of Bernieres-sur-Mer on 6 June 1944 . (D Day-Juno Beach) Google Earth is very detailed for this area and the house featured still stands . The troops were members of the Canadian Stormont Dundas Glengarry Highlanders , some of whome at least would have later been involved in the creation of the "Fallais Pocket"

A complete history of the landing craft itself can be found by googleing HMCS LCI L299

Critical Alpha said...

I was about to post the poem - The Fallen - that Powerin posted a verse from. That verse is recited every day in Returned Serviceman's clubs in Australia.

The only thing that it misses is that it is the young who fall. Increasingly it is the young and poorly educated. They are sent there by the mature and "well educated" politicians who we elect.

There is nothing that makes me sadder than the death of young people at war. Why do we fight?

Sue said...

Thank you, Aviatrix, for posting your reflections on Veterans Day.

Sarah said...

Thanks for making it not "just another day", Aviatrix.

The observances always bring a lump to my throat. Here is a photo essay link sent to me by Jay Biggs. The pictures of he and his dad in the a320 and of the lines of soldiers applauding each other are great.

Cirrocumulus said...

"The only thing that it misses is that it is the young who fall."
Nowadays yes, but it was written about the First World War which was more inclusive, with conscription well into middle age.

Violent video games are for people who haven't enough imagination to want to fly taildraggers!

N6349C said...

I believe that the "biplane" is a Sopwith, probably a Camel. It killed more pilots in training than in combat, so it was a b**ch to fly (and that is not "beech"), mostly due to the excessive torque from its Gnome rotary engine. But it was fast and could turn in it's own length to the right, and in the length of France to the left....

Let me know how you get on. I think there is a flyable one in upstate NY.

amulbunny said...

Thank you.

Lord Hutton said...

First time no more WW1 veterans at memorial services in the UK this year. The last three went in the last 12 months.
One of my ancestors (surname Ellison) was one of the last to die in WW1.
We stood in remembrance today at 11am, but it is amazing how many people just walk on by.

Chris R said...

Thank you for the post and thanks for all the comments

Cirrocumulus said...

Lord Hutton: we all turned out, passers-by of all ages joined us, it forbore to drizzle.
The Mayor was inaudible and halfway through his dedication an ancient citizen hobbled past, oblivious, tapping his stick on the concrete.
The ancient bugler gave an accidental jazz feel to parts of the Last Post. Right at the end another ancient citizen arrived, using a wheeled shopping bag as a zimmer frame, and asked loudly in the rural tones of old Reading, "Scuse me, whass all this about, d'yow know?"
I'm sure our local dead would smile.

Aviatrix said...

Yes, thank you for all the comments.

The cenotaph ceremony went well. There were bagpipes and even a flyover, which I hadn't expected.

And here's an adorable compilation of videos showing returning soldiers being greeted by ecstatic dogs.