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This Remembrance Day Will Be Different: Cpl. Cirillo Has Made it Real: Richard Foot, Globe & Mail, Nov. 9, 2014 — This year, at cenotaphs across Canada, Remembrance Day will be different.
Standing on Guard for Canada's Fallen Soldiers: Robert Sibley, Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 10, 2014 — In the days after the murders of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, Canadians found numerous ways to express their sorrow and solidarity with the country’s military
Rare Canadian Jewish Comic Book Turns Up in Toronto: Renee Ghert-Zand, Times of Israel, Nov. 11, 2014— Thanks to a curious library volunteer, Canadians learned of the discovery of a rare comic book honoring Jewish World War II heroes in time for the country’s Remembrance Day, November 11.
Out of the Great War’s Trenches, a Poetry Fit For the Age of Industrial Slaughter: Rex Murphy, National Post, Nov. 8, 2014— Out of the First World War came something of a new poetry.
Our Thanks to All Our Military, From This Century and Last: National Post, Nov. 11, 2014
Sea of Red: Tower of London Poppies Seen From the Air (Video): Telegraph, Nov. 11, 2014
Nov. 11 is a Day to Remember Together, Not to Holiday: Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, National Post, Nov. 10, 2014
Why is Canada Botching the Great War Centenary?: J.L. Granatstein, Globe & Mail, Apr. 21, 2014
Globe & Mail, Nov. 9, 2014
This year, at cenotaphs across Canada, Remembrance Day will be different. For the first time in many years, the ceremonies will feel relevant and raw to most of the gathered pilgrims. Corporal Nathan Cirillo’s killing has made sure of that. Canadians first started communing around military cenotaphs in 1902, at the end of the Boer War, when the nation indulged in a great, patriotic burst of memorial-building. Monuments to Canada’s first foreign war were erected in city parks and town squares from Victoria to Halifax. Over the next decade, huge crowds would gather around them to celebrate – yes, celebrate – the imperial victory in South Africa.
By 1918 the mood had changed dramatically. The trauma and slaughter of the First World War meant that new memorials would be built, but this time they were mostly sombre creations – like the National War Memorial where Cpl. Cirillo was gunned down on Oct. 22 – designed not to celebrate military achievement but simply to honour the dead. The hour of annual remembrance was fixed at 11 a.m. on 11 November, the time and date of the Armistice in Europe. Over the century that followed, through the Second World War, the Korean War and Afghanistan, Canadians have faithfully gathered around memorials each November to remember the legions left dead or wounded in these conflicts. When memories were still fresh – especially in the aftermath of the Second World War, with its huge number of returning warriors – Remembrance ceremonies were undoubtedly more relevant occasions. Many Canadians would have personally known the pain and heartache of war in their lifetime.
Ever since I can recall, however, Remembrance Day has always been about the past. We gather each year to honour ordinary soldiers who made extraordinary sacrifices in history. When surviving veterans of distant wars paraded past the cenotaph (and I can remember a time when First World War veterans were pushed along in their wheelchairs), the ageing warriors seemed too old, too frail to truly bring the past alive. Even in the hallowed presence of these men, Remembrance Day was for most of us a determined act of memory for a distant time.
The war in Afghanistan certainly made real the risks and consequences of war. Suddenly, there were families in our own communities with sons and husbands killed and injured overseas. These families were evidence of real loss and real pain. This was the first taste, for many Canadians, of military sacrifice in our own lifetime. Yet somehow, the war in Afghanistan was so complex – the causes and solutions too hard to figure, the battlefields too unconventional, the enemy too hard to identify – that this counter-insurgency campaign and its veterans failed to transform Remembrance Day from an exercise of historical memory, into something most of us could instinctively feel in our hearts.
But now that transformation has occurred. Nathan Cirillo is just one soldier, and not even a war veteran at that. Yet his shocking murder as he stood on sentry duty at the National War Memorial – the unforgettable image of him lying on the granite, directly alongside his First World War comrade inside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – has vividly linked the past with the present. The Unknown Soldier’s remains were brought to Ottawa in May, 2000 from an unmarked Canadian grave at Cabaret-Rouge military cemetery, not far from Vimy, France. Which means the soldier in the tomb in Ottawa very likely fought and died in the famous Canadian attack on Vimy Ridge in 1917. Two fallen soldiers lying side-by-side at the National War Memorial – one from a heralded battle in history, one from our time, taking his last breaths beside the other.
Nathan Cirillo’s death is a tragedy. But Cpl. Cirillo now speaks to Canadians in a way the Unknown Soldier can’t – by allowing those of us with little or no connection to war to know, if only fleetingly, what the killing of a Canadian soldier feels like; how it sucked the air from our very lungs, upon hearing the awful news. This year the crowds at cenotaphs across the country will surely be larger. The ceremonies will be more poignant. And our understanding of loss – and the need for memory – will be more real.
Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 10, 2014
In the days after the murders of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, Canadians found numerous ways to express their sorrow and solidarity with the country’s military — everything from laying flowers at the National War Memorial to lining highways in flag-waving tributes to a passing funeral cortege. But perhaps no expression was more poignant than that of a 15-year-old Nova Scotia girl, Ceilidh Bond, a member of the 1917 Vimy Ridge Army Cadet Corps in Florence, N.S. Three days after Cirillo’s shooting, the young woman dressed in her uniform and stood alone and at attention for several hours in the pouring rain in front of a community cenotaph in North Sydney.
Her gesture, photographed by a veteran from a nearby legion hall, captured nationwide attention. “I’ve got my uniform on, and I am proud of what I am doing for Canada,” Bond was quoted as saying. “And I am remembering Nathan Cirillo.” The young woman certainly showed more courage than the National Defence bureaucrats who, in the aftermath of Cirillo’s death, ordered off-duty soldiers across the country not to wear their uniforms — combats as well as dress — in public. But then, arguably, Bond’s act also reflects something the bureaucrats have yet to grasp — the public respect and regard that has emerged in the past decade or so for the men and women of Canada’s armed forces. As Prof. Robert Rutherdale, a social historian at Algoma University, remarks: “There’s no question there’s been a significant increase in popular support for the military because of what has happened since, say, 9/11.”
It was a different story 20 years ago. In 1993, the dark cloud of the Somalia affair hung over the Canadian army. Public regard was at a low ebb. The Liberal government of the day cut military spending by 25 per cent. Troops were ordered to keep their uniforms in the closet, at least when on civilian streets. The media regularly ran stories about submarines unable to submerge, helicopters that couldn’t fly and training exercises where recruits, lacking bullets, were told to shout “bang.” Even worse, the military was the target of mockery. Pundits demonstrated their sophistication by referring to Canada’s soldiers as “boy scouts with guns” and how American boy scouts could easily invade the country. Some academics promoted the idea of turning the military into an agency for humanitarian causes.
Such arguments ignore the reality that Canada has historically excelled as a warrior nation. During the War of 1812, Canadian militiamen were crucial in helping the British army stymie an American conquest. In the First World War, Canadians soldiers were regarded as the “shock troops” of the Empire. Canadians fighter pilots were top aces in both the First and the Second World Wars. The Royal Canadian Navy, once the third largest in the world, did yeoman’s service protecting convoys from German submarines in the Atlantic during the Second World War. In 1951, at the height of the Korean War, 500 Canadian soldiers held off 5,000 Chinese troops at the Battle of Kapyong — a battle that should take its place in the annals of Canadian military history along with Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Anzio, Ortona, Juno Beach and the liberation of Holland. Most recently, of course, there was the war in Afghanistan, where Canadian soldiers patrolled the hottest combat zones — the two-month battle in 2006 between companies of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and the Taliban is the stuff of legend — and took a disproportionate number of casualties.
But then even at the nadir of public regard, Canada’s soldiers continued to display consummate professionalism. In 1993, while the country attended to the Somalia affair, few Canadians heard about how a small troop of Princess Pat’s stood its ground against repeated assaults by Croatian troops. The Croatians were bent on ethnic cleansing in Serb villages, but the Canadians, doing duty as peacekeepers, kept them at bay until they retreated. The lives of hundreds of civilians were saved. Much of this recent history was ignored during that short holiday from history the West enjoyed after the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union imploded. But then came 9/11, the war in Afghanistan and Islamist terrorism.
“People are very much aware of Canada’s involvement in overseas conflicts since 9/11,” says Ruthdale. Canadians, he suggests, increasingly recognized the uncertainties and insecurities of our time, prompting them to acknowledge the necessity of the military. As he puts it: “There is a resurgence in respect for the military based on what (people) see and what they read.” A 2010 Ipsos Reid reinforced that view. The survey found most Canadians – about 90 per cent – described the military as “a vital national institution” and held a “positive impression of the people who serve.” A near equivalent percentage regarded the military as a “source of pride.” And at least half of Canadians said they believed the “top focus for the Canadian Forces should be international.”
Twenty years ago you might have seen a few thousand at the Remembrance Day ceremony at Ottawa’s National War Memorial. In recent years, those numbers are in the tens of thousands. The same holds true for ceremonies in communities large and small across the country. This year’s ceremony, following so closely on the deaths of two soldiers, may well generate even larger crowds. And so it should. Ceilidh Bond, the young Army Cadet, said it best in explaining her vigil: “I decided to go out in my uniform and stand guard and take Cpl. Cirillo’s place. It was honestly the least I could do.”
Times of Israel, Nov. 11, 2014
Thanks to a curious library volunteer, Canadians learned of the discovery of a rare comic book honoring Jewish World War II heroes in time for the country’s Remembrance Day, November 11. The National Post reported on October 31 that the 1944 comic book, “Jewish War Heroes,” turned up in a box of books donated to the Kelly Library at the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College. The comic book was the first installment of a three-issue series published by the Canadian Jewish Congress to raise awareness about Jewish participation in the war effort against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers. The series was a means of combating the incorrect perception among some Canadians that Jewish citizens were shirking their national duty.
Each page of the found comic book was devoted to a different featured Jewish war hero. Yank Levy wrote a book on guerrilla warfare and appeared on the cover of Life magazine; Israel Fisanovitch was a Soviet submarine captain; and Brigadier Frederick Hermann Kisch and Alfred Brenner received the Distinguished Flying Cross. The first issue contained an informational page stating that 1.5 million Jews were known to be serving in the various Allied armies, navies and air forces — the bulk of them in the US and Soviet armed forces (500,000 each). There were at least 12,000 Jews in Canadian uniform, the same number as from Australia, New Zealand and Africa combined. Palestine and the UK each had 50,000 Jewish officers and enlisted men and women.
It is not known how many copies of “Jewish War Heroes” were originally printed. It is believed that only a small number have survived. Sylvia Lovegren, the library volunteer who found the comic book tucked between the pages of a book on WWII, did some research that turned up a few other existing original copies (computer scans and photocopies of the series are more common). “There are two library-bound copies in Toronto…Other than that, there is a copy in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC and one in the National Library of Israel,” Lovegren told The National Post. While most Canadians may not have been aware of this rare comic book, or of the extent of Jewish participation and valor in the WWII, the discovery of the “Jewish War Heroes” among the donated library books did not completely surprise Jewish comics aficionados. “I certainly knew about it,” Steven M. Bergson told The Times of Israel. In fact, the data processing specialist for the Toronto UJA and the editor of Jewish Comix Anthology has owned photocopies of “Jewish War Heroes” for some years.
For Jewish comic book fans and scholars, what makes “Jewish War Heroes” so special, however, is that it is an early example of Canadian Jewish involvement in comics. Although by 1944 comic books were becoming popular with kids and some adults, there were really no Jews involved in the comic book industry in Canada. A few Canadian Jews eventually ended up moving south of the border to the US, where the industry was more robust and noted Jewish creators, like Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, were associated with it. Ironically, the Canadian Jewish Congress-commissioned comic book series was drawn by a non-Jew. George Menendez Rae, who is best remembered for his national superhero, Canada Jack, illustrated the work. “No Jews worked on comics in Canada, in either writing or drawing until the 1980s,” said Bergson.
According to Bergson, an auction house in Israel sold originals of issues 1 and 2 of the series for $800. The National Post quoted Peter Birkemoe, owner of Toronto comic book shop The Beguiling, as saying that he thought that the comic books would go for between $1,000 and a price “close to five figures” at auction now.
National Post, Nov. 8, 2014
Out of the First World War came something of a new poetry. From the days of Homer and his great Illiad, Western poetry, if it did not purely celebrate the glories or war, the prowess of its heroes, its contempt for the weak, certainly placed it in the highest category of achievement and honour. The bards of olden times were the memory-keepers of a tribe’s warriors. They wrote to celebrate and ennoble victory in war, and to provide verbal garlands that would lend lasting fame to the heroes of their day. Of war’s champions (Hector, Achilles, the Knights of the Round Table) and great slaughter-men (Shakespeare liked the term) poets have always sung.
Not so much have poets or poetry found time to tell of the brutal meanness of war, its spirit-crushing hardships, sufferings and deaths. And poetry has had little time for those nameless millions killed or mutilated while fighting under the banners of their high-born leaders – until The Great War. If smaller figures did emerge in the older Homeric tradition — an attendant or servant — they were rarely central. War was a tapestry in which Kings, Heroes and Knights were sung of and lauded, common soldiers just grey stitching in the background of the pattern.
Milton has an excellent summary of the tradition:
Warrs, hitherto the onely Argument
Heroic deem’d, chief maistrie to dissect
With long and tedious havoc fabl’d Knights
In Battels feign’d.
It was in the aftermath of the apocalyptic horrors of what we have come to call the First World War that poetry took on quite different tones, became more of a reportage on the sufferings of individuals in the mass, rather than a celebration of the few high names in command. It was a poetry that looked with anguish and pity at all the broken lives and limbs that are the real stuff of war, and traded the high tradition of trumpet blasts for heroes, to lament and anger over the treatment of those in the numberless ranks.
Of these poets, Wilfred Owen, a victim of war himself, remains the strongest voice, and his verse simultaneously the most touching and angry that sang that terrible conflict. Just as John McCrae’s Flanders’ Fields has become a universal anthem for the fallen dead of the war, one of Owen’s poems, Anthem for Doomed Youth — though lesser known — is among a small handful of First World War poems that retain their urgency and impact a full century after the conflict in which they were written. It is a very worthy Remembrance Day poem.
There are no services for the individuals killed in battle, no church with its solemn bells, its candles for the dead, the farewells of relatives and loved ones. Owen imagines the battlefield as providing “substitutes” for these, though substitutes is a poor word. A terrible irony is at work when from war and its weapons he weaves a metaphoric church service for the fallen. Their prayers are rifle sounds — the sounds from the rifles that killed and wounded.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
“Orisons” is an older terms for prayers (Hamlet: Nymph in thy orisons, be all my sins remember’d). And if the rifles are prayer, what supplies a choir?
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
It is worth stopping here, for it is almost certain that Owen’s sonnet was reflecting one of the most beautiful lines in all poetry from the greatest writer of sonnets ever. “Choirs” is meant to echo the golden line of Shakespeare’s “bare, ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.” Owen’s allusion harvests some of the ineffable melancholy of that famous line, to give depth of the profound ironies of Anthem .
He makes a turn in the second stanza where he imagines what or who will speak or perform a farewell to the dead, a Requiescat. There is no priest or rector here so, lyrically inspired, he imagines their funeral candles will be in the eyes of young boys (brothers at home perhaps):
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
And in a final sweet touch, worthy of Keats in its slow-moving grace, he writes three lines which for sheer force of sympathy and beauty are without rival:
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent maids,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
He called his poem an Anthem, but it is really a dirge or threnody, a poem of sad remembrance and farewell, in which the liturgy, the rites and ceremony of church burial, are drawn from the practice and incidents of that battlefields. Anthem is, as Owens insisted of all his war poetry, a song of pity.
It is, as I and others have said, a poem for November 11. On what other day would that fading last line — And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds — have such elegiac music? A remembrance from a poet who saw so many others killed one hundred years ago, and who was himself called out in the very blossom of his days by the first great cataclysm of the modern age.
Our Thanks to All Our Military, From This Century and Last: National Post, Nov. 11, 2014—Last year, as Nov. 11 approached, this editorial board noted thankfully that Canada had spent the past year at peace.
Sea of Red: Tower of London Poppies Seen From the Air (Video): Telegraph, Nov. 11, 2014 —The Tower of London has released previously unseen aerial footage of the Installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.
Nov. 11 is a Day to Remember Together, Not to Holiday: Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, National Post, Nov. 10, 2014—Only twenty days after the murder at the cenotaph, today’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa will be more somber than most.
Why is Canada Botching the Great War Centenary?: J.L. Granatstein, Globe & Mail, Apr. 21, 2014—The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War will be marked all across the world in August.
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