“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…”
from In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
How many of us had to memorize this poem in elementary school without understanding all the words? Or how may of us listened to a student or a teacher read this poem or other war poems like it in an assembly and then sat and fidgeted our way through the Last Post, the moment of silence and Reveille without really knowing what we were supposed to be remembering?
As adults, how many of us stop for a moment on this day and think about why we should wear poppies and reflect on their significance?
Today, all public libraries in Winnipeg are closed for Remembrance Day, a public holiday that originally marked the end of hostilities in the Great War “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” in 1918 with the signing of the Armistice.
Since that time, Remembrance Day has also become a time to remember the great sacrifices made by our men and women in the armed forces who served in World War II, Korea and more recently in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Since 1956 and our role in averting the Suez Crisis, Canadians have been a valuable presence around the world in United Nations peacekeeping missions and UN sanctioned military operations through NATO. Some of the places where Canadians have served include Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Haiti.
This year, Remembrance Day may take on additional meaning to some, not only because it is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War (or World War I as it is now commonly known), but also because of last month’s senseless murder of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was part of an honour guard stationed at our National War Memorial in Ottawa. We, as a nation, are still trying to come to terms with that recent tragedy at one of our country’s most sacred symbols.
At the Millennium Library, a new display titled “Winnipeg’s Great War” is now available for public viewing until January, 2015. Spread out over eight display cases, the display features many artifacts including uniforms, photos, miniatures, 3D maps, dioramas, and medals. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Air Force, the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and support services like the Royal Canadian Ordinance Corps, the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps are all featured. Next time you are downtown, pop into the library and have a look. You can get a pamphlet at the Readers Services desk on the main floor that goes into much more detail about the items on display.
Special credit goes to Hugh O’Donnell, Louis-Philippe Bujold and Colette Dufault for putting this display together.
If you’re looking for some reading material on the Great War, we can recommend the following titles.
Winnipeg’s Great War: A city comes of age – Jim Blanchard
Using diaries, letters and newspaper reports, Mr. Blanchard paints a vivid picture of what our city went through as the Great War raged in Europe. Focussing on the home front, the war had an unavoidable effect on the private lives of the families left behind as well as the business, political and social climate of the city.
The War that Ended Peace: the road to 1914 – Margaret MacMillan
With 2001’s “Paris 1919: Six months that changed the world“, University of Toronto history professor Margaret MacMillan examined the aftermath of WWI and how the Paris Peace Conference laid the groundwork for the conflicts that led to WWII. In her newer book, Ms. MacMillan goes back to almost a hundred years before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and explores the political and social trends that led to the “War to end all Wars”.
Valour Road – John Nadler
John Nadler tells the story of three soldiers, Leo Clarke, Frederick William Hall, and Robert Shankland, who all grew up on the same block of Pine Street in Winnipeg’s West End. Incredibly, the three of them went off to fight in the Great War and all three received the Victoria Cross medal, the highest medal given for bravery at that time. Something like this was unique in the entire former British Empire. Pine street was renamed Valour Road in these soldiers’ honour and a memorial now stands at the corner of Valour Road and Sargent.