They shall not grow old, those who fell upon foreign fields in the service of their country, never to return to hearth, home and the loving embrace of their grieving families. But the ranks of those who did return from the Second World War and Korea are now dwindling fast, while those who manned the trenches at the Ypres, Festubert and Givenchy, who fell at the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel and were victorious in the bloody battles of Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and Cambrai have all now joined the ranks of their fallen comrades beneath the soil.
Today it is nearly impossible for the modern Canadian to fathom the depth of national sacrifice that took place in the First World War. Our tiny country enlisted some 619,636 service personnel as the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the war and, of those, we sent approximately 424,000 overseas. Of those numbers 59,544 died during the war, some 51,748 of them as a result of enemy action. This from a relatively new country (Confederation of the Canadian provinces had taken place less than 50 years previously) with a population of barely eight million. Approximately seven percent of our entire population was in uniform at some point in that conflict.
At the beginning of the Second World War the country had grown to 11 million souls, and an astounding 1.1 million citizens wore a uniform in that conflict, with losses of 42,000 killed and another 55,000 wounded.
In the Korean conflict, 23,000 Canadians served as part of our nation’s contribution over the three years of that United Nations’ intervention.
Within a living memory of much of the nation literally every single family in our nation either lost a member and/or a number of close friends to warfare. These were crisis events that scarred generations and the memory of those losses were carved deep into our national psyche. We could not help but remember them.
Today, there are still men and women putting their lives on the line for our nation, some 2,500 being sent into the NATO intervention in Afghanistan. The number of losses sustained in that conflict may pale in comparison to the world wars, but for the loved ones of those service personnel, the pain is just as real, just as strong, just as unimaginable.
We hold a sacred duty as Canadians to remember the sacrifices made by those brave men and women who serve their country and fell in the line of duty. It is a duty that may be made more challenging by the now distant memory of their sacrifices, but a sacred duty nonetheless. It is not to glorify war that we remember those who gave their lives in the service of our country. War is an abhorrent and evil aspect of humanity that our species could all do well without—in fact the Sword of Damocles of nuclear conflict is still an all-too-real possibility, war may still end the existence of our species on this planet.
But there is no greater gift that a human being can bestow upon their nation, their family and their neighbours than to stand between them and the horrors of war.
On the 11 hour, of the 11th day, of the 11 month, our nation will stand quietly in silence in memory of those who gave up everything in our service. Lest we forget.
We will remember them.