For a very many number of years, I would not observe Remembrance Day. I was conflicted with the hero imagery attached to war, and the notion that people were killing each other over government policy. I couldn’t buy in to the rhetoric and propaganda. I’d rather have worn a white poppy, than a red one.
I have a familial connection to war, but it wasn’t one that I really explored. I knew my grandfather served with the Merchant Marines in WWII, the photo of him in his uniform on his wedding day hung in our home growing up. But I never really understood it. I never really appreciated it.
A few years ago I asked my grandfather to describe what his service was like.
Grumps on WWII
Then I started to rethink what exactly this day was about. I started to understand the connection of family, and how so many were shattered. It wasn’t the bravery, and the valour, and the courage of the fighters that I connected with, it was the shattering of families.
For the past 3 years, I have taken the boys on Remembrance Day to the cenotaph at Battalion Park in Calgary. We walk the steps, look at the photos of what used to be the training grounds for thousands of servicemen, and then we lay our poppies down, taking a moment of silence and thanking the family that went before us.
I don’t know why things changed when I had kids, they just did.
Maybe it was them being in school and having an understanding of what Remembrance Day was about with assemblies and lessons. Zacharie memorized the words to In Flanders’ Fields this year and sang it at an assembly. In re-reading the family tree information my sister researched a decade ago, I found my great grandmother had that poem in her house. It connected.
Reading the stories of my family, I found that my great grandmother demanded 2 minutes of silence from her children every year on November 11 in memory of her father and 2 brothers who died in the war. Now it was personal.
I had no idea. My family tree was broken by war. Now, it makes sense. Now I wear that poppy with pride.
When I visited the Scottish War Memorial in Edinburgh, I searched for the name of William Todd and his children, Charles and William. 3 branches of my tree were broken in World War I.
My great grandmother worked in a munitions factory during that war while her husband, father, and 2 brothers went away to fight. Only her husband returned. It took me nearly 40 yrs, but now I get it.
So today I took the boys, in -25 weather, to the cenotaph to place our poppies, have a moment of silence, and recite In Flanders’ Fields.
It’s what my great grandmother would have wanted.
Lest we forget.
Clockwise rom top left, Norman Broadway (my grandfather), Merchant Marines on HMCS Oakville in WWII. John Keelty (my great grandfather), part of British forces who liberated Jerusalem in 1917. Charles Todd (my great great uncle), died fighting with Australia in WWI. Second from right in bottom, Violet Keelty (my great grandmother), ammunition factory worker, WWI.