In Flanders Field and Canadian Patriotism

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

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.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. 

John McCrae, “In Flanders Field.”

Photograph © Andrew Dunn.

Photograph © Andrew Dunn.

I know this post is a few days premature, but I’ve always found the Canadian response to Remembrance Day to be quite interesting. We’re not a particularly patriotic culture during the rest of the year, but at the beginning of each November Canadians soften a little.

About this time of year you start seeing people walking around with artificial poppies pinned to their coats. The money from the sales of these flowers goes to various projects that support former and current soldiers, police officers, Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers, as well as Royal Canadian Air, Army, and Sea cadets. The programs sometime support families members of people working in these positions, too.

It’s amazing to me to see how many people wear those poppies every year. They’re found in every walk of life, from brand new immigrants to people whose ancestors have lived here for many generations. In the midst of an otherwise cheerful holiday season, government buildings and offices shut down on Nov. 11 for a sombre reminder of the cost of war.

The local news channel covers the ceremonies that take place that day, and it always amazes me to see how seriously they take it. World War I happened almost a century ago, yet it feels like something that happened within the lifetimes of the oldest attendees. There is a heaviness in the air through the speeches, anthems, and gun salutes that is hard to describe without falling into tired cliches about the horrors of war.

Do I not remember a similar feeling about Veteran’s Day in the U.S. because of cultural differences between the two countries or because it’s more difficult for children, teens, and young adults to pick up on the gritty community sorrow that clings to even the oldest wars?

I do not know.

What have you noticed?

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