On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, World War I ended.
Ever since, each November 11th at eleven o’clock Canadians honor those that fell in that war as well as ALL who have served since.
This blog contains elements from Blog 6.1: The FEAR Lessons but has been SPUN to be more respectful and appropriate for this day.
On this day, all Canadians but especially the youth of Canada need to understand that their privileged lives that are so full of opportunities are a direct result of the sacrifices of those that came before them. Young people, in their late teens and twenties were, and are, being wounded or killed in the defense of our way of life.
Those of you that grew up in large cities may not fully appreciate the hardships faced by your fellow Canadians that live and work in more difficult conditions in rural Canada. It is out of these small towns, from coast to coast, where most of our servicemen and women have traditionally come from. Small town life creates soldiers that are physically tough but it also instills them with compassion and a willingness to help their neighbor.
Today our Canadian Armed Forces are loaded with young people that are committed to preserving our way of life whatever the cost and they have a proud heritage.
We Canadians have the respect of much of the world as peace makers and peace keepers but there is another side to us that needs to be understood and remembered by people who are not Canadian and those whose educational system did not tell them about us.
Just a few summers ago, I made a new American friend who was working in Canada as an executive for a large aerospace company. After several drinks one night sitting at a fire lakeside, he stated how lucky we were to have our way of life but proceeded to suggest that we should not involve ourselves in global matters that would be better handled by the United States on our behalf. It was then that I began to understand how misunderstood we Canadians have become even by our closest neighbor. I suggested that until he became better acquainted with our history that he should not continue this line of conversation. I POLITELY let him know that he was about to cross a line that should not be crossed.
It has become apparent that we must define a Canadian for all to see because many do not REMEMBER or know our history.
The world has trouble with this.
Our politicians have trouble with this.
New Canadians have trouble with this.
Our media has trouble with this.
We are a small country in terms of population. We are hugely OUTNUMBERED ten-fold by our neighboring countries like the U.S.A. and Russia. A country that does not understand a Canadian may think that we are just pawns in the Soviet / U.S. chess match.
They would be grossly mistaken.
We have the respect of both of these Peoples and we are neighborly to both but we back down from neither. In fact, the Russian people and Canadians share a similar knowledge of hardship and resolve because of our similar geography and that is what created our common thread. Regardless of the global political climate, it was Canadian wheat farmers helping out Russian wheat farmers in times of need that cemented a long-standing relationship. Helping a neighbor in need is how farmers continue to succeed in Canada. It is this character trait of Canadian farmers that best exemplifies the Canadian people. I hope this will never disappear in the modern world where corporate greed is spreading like a cancer.
To a Canadian, global politics is just not that important to us. We have more important things to attend to like working hard to feed our families. We have a simple global outlook: if you do not bother us; WE WILL NOT BOTHER YOU.
We are not isolationists, we invite everyone to come and stay; if they can handle it.
As part of the British Commonwealth, we adopted a bit of their “stiff upper lip” mentality coupled with a RESOLVE that stems from our fierce living and working conditions.
We can relate well with the Northern European countries, because they again have tougher living conditions.
You see, we do not have a sun-belt. We do not have a California, Florida, Arizona or South of France but we like going to places like those for a break.
It is tough where we live and it makes us tough: mentally, physically and emotionally.
We should never dominate any sport because of our limited funding and small population BUT WE DO.
This comes from our resolute nature once we set our mind on an objective.
It should also be noted that we have a national pride that is best seen through our national pastime: hockey. It is a tough game for tough people. Our style of hockey is being watered down to accommodate growing interest in the game outside of Canada but we are always a team NEVER TO BE UNDERESTIMATED.
This Canadian national pride and stubborn resolve stems from HARDSHIP.
We are survivors.
We have a rich heritage of succeeding where others fear to tread.
In World War One where my grandfather participated in trench warfare, 100,000 French soldiers were killed or wounded at Vimy Ridge. The Canadians were brought in after training specifically for the task of taking this important German-held position. The Canadian soldiers showed such incredible RESOLVE and feats of bravery in accomplishing their mission that the French government gave that little piece of France to Canada forever.
It seems that these soldiers kept on ADVANCING when their officers were killed and perhaps most bizarrely of all; when they ran out of bullets. Yes, there are TRUE STORIES of Canadian soldiers charging machine-gun positions with bayonets.
There is another WW1 story that you should know of: Flanders and the town of Passchendaele. Imagine walking on a rain soaked muddy narrow dock with only one board every 16 inches carrying a 24 kilogram (or 53 pound) anchor while machine-gun bullets flew over your head and artillery shells fell all around in the rain with your clothes soaked with mud. If you slipped off that little dock you would probably drown- not in water… but mud; and your pals were ORDERED not to help you. That was the reality of Allied soldiers that were there.
Over 300,000 British, Australian and New Zealand casualties were recorded before the Canadians Corps would be called in. After 14 days of continuous battle, Canadians did what some thought was impossible and paved the way for the allies to make a run into Belgium.
Try to picture one million water-filled muddy shell holes in a one square mile area. Only the surface of the moon comes to my mind, but this was even more concentrated.
15,654 Canadian casualties were the cost of this victory. 1000 are still there in Flanders fields. A relatively small number when compared to the British losses but a lot for a country with a small population that was just under eight million at the time.
Other lesser known places that you should be aware of are: Gravenstafel Ridge- 6064 casualties, Amiens- 9,074 casualties and Canal Du Nord and Cambrai- 13,672 casualties.
These were all success stories; Canadian victories; with a cost that Canadians were willing to pay for FREEDOM.
619,000 young men enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WW1.
233,000 were casualties; or almost 37%.
Almost 10% died in service to this country IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM.
No town or village across the entire country was unaffected by the losses.
My Grandmother told me of my Grandfather’s return from the war. It was anything but the romantic reunion that film-makers like to portray. She was surprised to find him sitting outside one day, as she had not received any notification as to when to expect him. He had not even knocked. It seems that he was upset and embarrassed by having lice in his uniform and did not want her to see him like that. He did not want to go in the house like that. She undressed and bathed him outside giving him clean clothes to put on and then he burnt his uniform in the yard.
Just 25 years later, the world would be at it again.
Within a month of Britain’s declaration of war with Germany in WW2, the Canadian Army would grow from 5,000 to 70,000 people- not men. We have a proud tradition of Servicewomen in this country that goes back more than 100 years.
Both of my parents served in World War II: my mother in the Royal Canadian Air Force and my father in the Canadian Army Corps. My mom outranked my dad and never let him forget it.
In World War II, we Canadians again were the ones who did “the impossible”. A mountain top fortress named Assoro in Italy had to be taken in order for allied troops to advance. Canadian soldiers climbed a 900 meter (or nearly 3000 foot) mountain to take this mountain top that would allow Canadians to have a high-ground position that would lead to a German retreat from the area.
My father landed on Juno Beach. It was one of the most heavily defended beaches of the five allied landing sites in the invasion of Normandy. “STIFF RESISTANCE” as it was termed, was overcome and the Canadians were THE ONLY UNIT of the five, to achieve their Normandy landing objectives. But bad weather left those Canadian soldiers advancing inland without tanks against the German’s 21rst Panzer Division. Our Canadian soldiers ADVANCED anyhow.
Allied commanders would recognize the value of the Canadian Army and would employ them as “SHOCK-TROOPS” in tough places throughout the war.
At Breskens Pocket, Canadians would again fight in mud as their fathers had… AND WIN. In order to take the port of Antwerp, Canadians launched a frontal assault across the heavily defended Leopold Canal.
The last World War would end, but unfortunately smaller conflicts would continue to take the lives of Canadian soldiers.
A short time later in Korea, a Brigade of Canadians and Australians fought a delaying action with desperate defensive battles in a place called Kap Yong while surrounded by an entire Division of the Chinese army trying to take the city of Seoul. They stalled the advance and won a U.S. Presidential Unit Citation; rarely given to non-U.S. forces.
Tremendous acts of bravery and sacrifice continue to this day.
So what was the point of this little foray into Canadian history?
Remembrance Day is about history.
George Santayana is credited with the following quote: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
To some in Canada and many in the world, we Canadians are misunderstood. We are thought to be no different from our much larger allies.
Unfortunately in this modern technological era, the most visible people on television all too often appear weak, scared and even stupid and we Canadians are wrongly thought to be like them.
People not familiar with Canada and its citizens need to realize that the portrait of a Canadian painted by modern-day politicians and the media IS NOT who we are as a people.
The people of France and Holland in particular, remember us fondly. They appreciate their freedom and our sacrifice. They continue to REMEMBER. They continue to learn history.
Yes we Canadians are tolerant. We tolerate weak politicians and misinformed media because we are too busy dealing with the hardships of our land to sort them out.
Yes, we Canadians are polite.
Yes, we Canadians are friendly.
Yes, we Canadians help those in need.
Yes, we Canadians would rather keep the peace than allow a war because we know the cost of a war IS NOT PAID IN DOLLARS AND CENTS.
Yes, we Canadians try to avoid a fight for as long as we can.
However, we Canadians do not run from a fight.
We Canadians are very good at fighting.
We Canadians do not scare easily.
We Canadians do not concern ourselves with PARANOID THREAT LEVELS or WATCH LISTS.
If you force Canadians into a conflict, you should know that we have a long history of accomplishing the impossible and advancing where others could not.
While a Canadian will be the last person to start a conflict… we are best known for FINISHING THEM.
This is a Canadian!
So on our Remembrance Day each November 11th, we Canadians pause to thank those military people, both past and present that served our country and made us a proud people.
E. A. Barker