By MPP Toby Barrett
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row . . .
Lt. Col. John McCrae
This year is the 100th anniversary of the English language’s most famous poem paying tribute to those who gave their lives in the First World War. Its author, Lt. Col. John McCrae, was an Ontario boy, born and raised in Guelph. He was brigade surgeon for the Canadian Field Artillery, Number 3 Canadian General Hospital, in France.
McCrae was inspired to write his poem when one of his closest friends died and was buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross – poppies were already growing between the graves. McCrae died in France in 1918. So many others saw the same fate. The more fortunate returned home, some with injuries, both physical and mental, that would haunt them forever.
The British declared war on Aug. 4, 1939. As a part of the British Dominion, it also meant Canada was at war. Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in most of the major campaigns and battles fought on the western front, including Ypres, the Somme, Beaumont-Hamel, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and the Hundred Days offensive at the end of the war. By 1917, the Canadian Corps was one of the most respected formations in the allied armies.
This time of remembrance is also the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day and Victory in Japan (VJ) Day. On May 8, 1945, VE Day was celebrated in Toronto with ticker tape raining down from buildings and three Mosquito bombers while people sang and danced in the streets. But those who had suffered great losses remained at home or attended religious services, too deeply affected by the huge price of victory to express such public joy.
Fighting continued against the Japanese forces in the Far East where more than 10,000 Canadians remained. Canada committed two army divisions and considerable air and naval forces to the war in Asia. The VJ Day surrender came on Sept. 2, 1945.
The Second World War raged for six years and involved the efforts of almost the entire country: the enlisted, those who worked at home in industry or farming, and the volunteers and family members who supported those who fought.
Freedom is a gift – one whose cost must never be taken for granted. That’s why we understand the vital importance of honouring members of our forces, both past and present for their courage and dedication to defending us and to ensuring international peace and security.
Efforts to keep the memory of the sacrifices alive are greater than ever.
Remembrance Day is now the final day of Veteran’s Week, a time of remembrance set aside to honour veterans who served and those who continue to serve Canada to preserve freedom and peace. During Veteran’s Week, poppies are sold by veterans, their families and Legion members; speeches will be made in Legion halls and school children will gather in special assemblies.
Cenotaphs in small towns and larger centres honour the sacrifice of Canadians in both conflicts.
Outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it well, “These monuments remind us that freedom is never free. It has been earned by the soldier and then donated to all of us.”