The music coming over the outdoor sound system is Quartermaster’s Stores, followed by Lili Marlene, then Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag.
It’s -5C but so damp that it feels even colder. The sky is grey. Big wet snowflakes are steadily falling, but there are several hundred people of all ages bundled up against the cold, filling the park around the cenotaph. A few have taken shelter under the roof of the old train station that is now the Collingwood Museum, but most simply stand in the falling snow. After all, those we have come to remember and honour had no choice about the conditions in which they fought. An hour of discomfort seems such a small price to pay to commemorate them.
The honour guard of 4 young army cadets stands straight and proud at the monument. They seem oblivious to the weather, focussed as they are on their responsibility today.
Ted has been looking at old war records in Ancestry this week, and finding records of generations past that fought in The Great War – the one that was supposed to end all wars. We each have more recent relatives who fought, and some of whom died, on both sides in WWII. But uppermost in our thoughts is the man standing tall and straight beside us in his dress blues, with the snow covering his epaulets and frosting the poppy pinned on his wool coat: son #2, who has served in Afghanistan and Kuwait, and who we fervently hope will not have to be put in harms way again. I can’t help but think of all those other generations of mothers whose hearts were filled with that irreconcilable combination of pride in and fear for their sons.
The loudspeakers go quiet. The snow in the air dampens the sound somewhat, but we can hear the pipes and drums of the Beinn Gorm Highlanders as they lead the parade of veterans and current service personnel into the park. Added to the band is the muffled thunder of gloved and mittened hands applauding as the parade round the driveway to face the cenotaph, from the top of which the statue of the lone bugler faces them. The parade marshall in full regalia hands the parade over to the Legion Padre, after which we all sing O Canada. Then all of the police and fire vehicles at the intersections sound their sirens in a signal for traffic to stop for a moment of remembrance with us.
It is 11:00, and the only sound until Reveille is played is the snow falling and the trumpeter sounding the Last Post.
There are so many wreaths to be laid, beginning with Collingwood’s Silver Cross Mother and followed by every branch of government, as well as the schools. After the crowd joins in a hymn and a prayer, the Padre speaks for a few minutes: “War is not a game.” It wasn’t a game when we were kids in the 1950’s and 60’s when kids played it with plastic Johnny 7 guns, and it’s not a game now when they play Call pf Duty on their XBox. He brought to mind air raid sirens on street corners, and school nuclear bomb drills, and he talked about the cost of real wars: loss, destruction, PTSD, people turned into exiles and refugees. He encouraged us never to forget the cost of war, so that we will always try to find other solutions.
No Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony would be complete without a reading of In Flanders Fields, and the singing of God Save The Queen. As the parade flags were raised again to the cry of “Let the colours fly!”, the crowd again applauded the exiting parade.
The friendly chatter of families and neighbours resumes as everyone disperses along the snow-covered sidewalks to their day’s activities: to the Legion for chili with the vets, coffee at Tim’s, some shopping, shovelling snow, or maybe curling up with a good book. We’re so lucky, and we owe so much to those who perished to ensure our freedoms, and those who serve now and are willing to make that same sacrifice if called to do so.