The 11th of November approaches. To our American brethren, who celebrate Memorial Day; we celebrate a similar historical remembrance of those who’ve fallen in battle in the name of our respective countries.
In Canada, we celebrate Remembrance Day. A time held on the 11th day, of the 11th month, at the 11th hour, exactly the time and date which the armistice was signed concluding World War 1. A war which had been entitled “The Great One”, or ironically “The War To End All Wars”.
Sadly, this last moniker was not meant to be. Today, we still struggle in arms against our brothers and sisters to achieve political means through violence, death; through utter and wholesale destruction.
As we speak and read at this very moment, shots are being fired in anger across lines. Men and women fire across lines at nearly unseen targets in the hopes that their bullet will find its mark; not a mark of a person. The mark of a uniform or helmet. We literally shoot at flags and uniforms, not human beings.
Were those combatants to stand across from one another, shake hands, and exchange a simple dialogue, they’d likely find that they have absolutely no reason to be attempting to end each other’s lives. They do this in the name of “Honour”. “Sacrifice”.
Truly, they do this in the name of governments. In the name of fat politicians, nestled behind their mahogany desks decreeing that it must be so, whilst in the comfort of their office.
As generations pass, we tend to center our thoughts and remembrances on our more recent conflicts. World War II. Korea (barely; it’s small wonder that this conflict was entitled “The Forgotten War”). Vietnam. Afghanistan. Surely, this cataloguing of our thoughts of modern time is not a sign of disrespect.
Generations simply pass, bloodlines end, names are forgotten, events are forgotten; nearly, entire wars are forgotten. We know nearly nothing of our great great grandfathers and their forebears. They pass through our thoughts and lineage like the crisp leaves that travel the wind in a somber autumn breeze. To be sure, they are there, but they decay with time, to be forgotten.
They’re forgotten because as our own busy lives pass, entangled with our own conflicts and tribulations, such things lose meaning to us.
Canadians fought in the American Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, The Boer War, The French and Indian Wars. Canadians even went across the border, lied about their citizenship, and joined their American brethren to fight the Vietnam War.
We fought, nearly unmentioned in Korea ( a big shout out to the TV series M.A.S.H. who regularly mentioned us). We illegally left our nation to wear foreign uniforms in the Spanish Civil War, so that others might remain free. So too did we with the French Foreign Legion.
As we speak, Canadians are fighting abroad, not in Canadian uniforms, but alongside Syrian rebels, in rebel uniforms, so that Syria might regain a stable nation, under threat by ISIL.
We have kept peace, in blue berets in countless nations on this earth, usually unmentioned. All too often, we are painted in earlier history, (if we’re mentioned at all) as the British “Colonials”. Never forget that those men were Canadians in British uniform. They fought not for Britain. They fought for OUR soil.
At times, they fought in bedraggled militia garb, home-made by wives, thrown together in haste, with shoddy weapons to defend our great nation. Many were without ammunition, relying in hopes of the bayonet. Some even showed up with farm implements such as pitchforks, and axes. A testament and defiance to show that Canada was not to be tangled with.
While always lesser in number, with inferior equipment, we never faltered in spirit. Our accomplishments on the battlefields of North America, Asia, East Asia, Russia, Africa, in the swelling north seas, in the Balkans, in the Middle East, the Pacific, and on the horrendous grounds of France during the first world war very often go unmentioned in the history books of other nations.
But we, as Canadians, should never forget. Passchendale. Vimy Ridge. PPCLI 2 at Hill 677 in the battle of Kapyong (where the President of the United States himself awarded medals to them for their meritorious service) The liberation of Holland under indescribable conditions.
The inventors of the “Trench Raid” (erroneously, people often think of Germans when we hear the term “Stormtrooper”; it was in fact the Germans who bestowed that moniker on Canadian troops during WW1. Whenever the Germans learned that they were facing Canadians across the line, they stepped upped their game in trepidation and fear knowing that they were facing the most elite force, alongside the Australians, on the battlefield).
The inventors of the “Creeping Barrage”. The inventors of “Indirect Machine Gun Fire”. The troops that took Vimy Ridge after no other Allied force could.
Canadians are often “Wallflowers” in the annals of history when it comes to military remembrance, but make no mistake: for a nation with a population of so few, we’ve spilled so much blood per capita that we’ve done far more than our part. And we’ve done so quietly.
Sometimes it is the glorious and bloody battles which we entrench in the annals of our history. Great battles. Horrendous losses. Feats of shear valour. At times we tend to forget some of the achievements which don’t come with medals.
Today I choose to illustrate a feat of strength, fortitude and sheer patriotism and will which seems to get lost in the well-worn, yellowed pages of days past.
In a war long past, and far from Canadian memory for the most part an incredible feat took place in the winter of 1812-1813.
During the winter months, the American Continental Army had built up a mass of troops in Sacket’s Harbor; massing to invade Canada, not too far from Kingston.
A small Canadian contingent across the river could not have hoped to have staved off this invasion as we were badly outnumbered, by nearly 20 to 1. A battle which most certainly would have turned the tide of the war and quite possibly made it so that we would today be flying the Stars and Stripes over the great nation we call “Kanata”, or Canada.
Canadian Generals were in a terrible situation; tactically unsound, approaching disaster. Reinforcements were no where to be found, due to the geographical size of Canada. So what do they do? Look upon the New Brunswick Regiment. 1100 km from their conundrum.
And what do the 104th New Brunswick Regiment do? In the dead of winter, thinly clad in woolen coats, cheap leather boots, wearing snow shoes, huge rucksacks and a pile of bad ass “Can-Do” attitude, the crazy sons of bitches proceed to march (snowshoe rather), in -31 degree Celcius weather 550 km in 24 days.
They took a bit of a rest in Quebec and then marched on to Kingston, Ontario. That’s 1125km (700 miles), knee deep in snow, with very little food and a pile of pissed off attitude.
Not bad for a bunch of ragged ass Canadians, many in their 30's and 40's years of age (OMP, baby) in crappy leather boots, snow shoes, barely any food, in -31 celcius weather (that’s -25 Fahrenheit for you yanks) with a bit of a grudge to bear.
Such feats of sheer will and strength often go unmentioned, but I feel this one shouldn’t. Had the fortitude, courage and strength of these men not been as stalwart as had been, we’d more than likely be celebrating the 4th of July in this country.
Instead, on the 1st of July, and on the 11th of November, stand with pride in knowing that Canada is, has always been, and always will be made of the sternest stuff.
Lest we forget.