Canada was ranked the second “Best Country” in the world for 2018 (usnews.com). Canada typically fares well in these global assessments when compared with other nations and we have much to be proud of. In this particular version, many factors were measured to come to the overall conclusion and two of those factors jumped out at me: Quality of Life (ranked first) and Citizenship (ranked fourth).
Fittingly, Sunday, November 11th will mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 and the guns on the Western Front fell silent. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 1.65 million Canadians served in the First and Second World Wars and 115,000 made the ultimate sacrifice for Canada – because they believed our values and beliefs were in danger and needed to be preserved.
The quality of life, the pride of citizenship and the freedoms we enjoy today might not exist without the sacrifices of those individuals and their loved ones who have gone before us.
The men from Leaside
Seventeen men who served in World War II are honoured at the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens. Their average age was 23, the youngest 19 and the oldest 32. They were far from home and gave their lives for their country. At home they lived within two kilometres of each other. Several were neighbours. Two lived right beside one another on Sutherland Drive, two came from Rumsey Road, and three lived on Cameron Crescent.
There are stories of bravery: a pilot with the famed ‘Demon’ Squadron known for attacking enemy shipping; at home a sales representative for Browns’ Bread. There are stories of courage: a pilot remaining in the air while comrades parachuted to safety before succumbing in the face of a severe storm; at home a University of Toronto honours English student and youth leader at the church. The historical records also include letters to and from home that underscore the gravity of the time. Feelings of anxiety, concern, sorrow and love.
For those with the proclivity, such as my esteemed colleague Elaine Snider – a 45-year Leasider – the details of these remarkable stories can be readily accessed, allowing those who served to be remembered and duly honoured. Elaine used the online search tools offered by the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, as well as ancestry.ca, which now includes “attestation papers” that were personal information forms Canadian soldiers filled out during the enlistment process.
It takes a village to raise a great town
The old proverb “it takes a village to raise…” refers to the challenge of facing a difficult task. No doubt times of conflict are difficult, and it should be noted that it is not only those who enlist that make sacrifices or rise to the occasion in support of an immense effort. Last year, Jane Pitfield wrote an article for Leaside Life highlighting a few of the Town of Leaside’s noteworthy contributions in both world wars. For example: 4,000 were employed in the town to efficiently produce ammunition; the Leaside Aerodrome was built to train pilots, with 600 eventually stationed there; 7,500 employees produced over $220 million worth of sophisticated equipment providing planes with radar and enabling them to fly at night; local residents proactively supported the Leaside RCAF Squadron based in England, which recruited heavily from Leaside, to name a few. Leasiders are extremely active in our collective support of the overall Canadian effort in the two world wars. As a result, today we should be grateful to have a country and importantly a ‘town’ like Leaside we can be proud of.
Sometimes we need to be reminded to remember
Opportunities to pay our respect to the generations of Canadians who have put their lives on the line in the cause of peace and freedom around the world are countless. There are reminders everywhere if you consciously look…the back of the $20 bill, page 22-23 in your passport, the plaque on the east perimeter wall (near the flag stands) when you’re at the rink watching a Leaside home game, a poppy…But in our modern, fast-paced lives there just never seems to be a moment to catch a breath. It’s understandable, yet unacceptable. To paraphrase Veterans Affairs Canada: By remembering all who have served, we recognize their willingly-endured hardships taken upon themselves so that we could live in peace – and we should acknowledge it is our responsibility to ensure that the peace they fought hard to achieve will endure. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of World War 1, it is hard to believe that no more than a gentle reminder would be required. Lest we forget.
So, what can we do before Remembrance Day? Here is a short and easy list to start:
1. Buy a poppy and wear it proudly
2. Visit the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens and pay your respects by viewing the plaque honouring these 17 men from Leaside
3. Send Remembrance e-Cards to friends and family http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/get-involved/e-cards
4. Visit the Veterans Canada Affairs “Ways to Remember” website and review: www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/get-involved/ways-to-remember
For the ambitious, how about a bonus activity? Read the poem In Flanders Fields, which was written in 1915 by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. I’m sure you know this poem by heart, but let’s all read it another time. Out of respect for the past, and for the sake of our future.
In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae
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.