by William Kendall @WilliamKendall1
November 11th is a day of commemoration, drawn out of the First World War. On that date in 1918, an armistice was signed, ending the war between Germany and the Allies. The War To End All Wars didn’t accomplish that, of course, but out of that particular date came a long standing tradition. The day goes by different names- Armistice Day initially, Remembrance Day throughout the Commonwealth, and Veterans Day in the United States. At cenotaphs and memorials around the world, wreaths are placed, prayers are given, and mournful, subdued music rings out, including universal choices, such as The Last Post.
Ottawa has its share of memorials and ceremonies on Remembrance Day, as is the case across the country. The national service takes place at the War Memorial, with thousands of people attending each year to pay tribute to veterans. The veterans of the Great War are all gone, and those of the Second World War dwindle by the year. Other services are held in outlying communities in the area, at the Canadian War Museum, and even at the military cemetery area at Beechwood Cemetery.
The services are about commemoration, not about celebration. Which fits our character. If you look at the War Memorial itself, there’s nothing to it that would strike you as a monument of triumph, but one of mourning and reflection. Finished in 1939 as a monument to the war dead of the Great War, and re-dedicated following subsequent conflicts, the War Memorial features a group of soldiers and servicemen, men and women, moving through a gate. They come from each branch of the services, even including horses. Allegorical figures representing peace and freedom loom above.
The Memorial is solemnity- especially with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier standing before it. That solemnity matches other war memorials that can be found scattered across the city, some known, some not as well visited. And it also matches those Canadian memorials found in other parts of the world, including the massive one at Vimy Ridge, site of a pivotal First World War battle and a Canadian victory. The Vimy Memorial does not strike the visitor as a salute to triumph, but instead as a mourning of those who gave their lives and paid the ultimate price in the line of duty.
That quality of commemoration reflects elsewhere. On Parliament Hill, within our Peace Tower, is the Memorial Chamber, a beautifully vaulted space containing books of remembrance in cases. The names of the dead of wars and military service are in those books, and each morning, a page is turned in those books as part of a ritual so that names are on display at least once a year. The result makes the chamber a solemn, sacred space, something that it has in common with the War Memorial.
Commemoration carries itself over to the War Museum. The current building replaced the previous one in 2005 after the collection had outgrown its former location. It has a very modern look, resembling a bunker. The museum tells the story of Canadian military history, both on the national and global context, but in a way that doesn’t relish in victory, but instead educates and does so in a respectful way. Part of its design includes a space with a single soldier’s tombstone (the original tombstone of our Unknown Soldier, in fact); the design is specified so that on November 11th, at 11 in the morning, sunlight will be shining on that tombstone from an overhead window. Another portion of its design includes a large space where the original plaster sculptures of those statues on the Vimy Memorial are placed. Those sculptures, smaller than their final counterparts, convey mourning, anguish, and remembrance in a way that is effective and poignant.
This November 11th, wherever you may be, take time out to pay your respects. Wear a poppy. Attend a service. Thank a veteran for their service.
And Frankly, My Dear . . . That’s all she wrote!
William Kendall is a photoblogger who finds the unique perspective in everyday life. You can follow him on his writing blog, Speak Of The Devil, his photoblog Ottawa Daily Posts, and Twitter @WilliamKendall1.