How We Remember

November 11th, 2018 marked 100 years since the end of the First World War. On this day, people all across Canada partook in various Remembrance Day ceremonies to honour the men and women who gave their lives in the name of peace.

Last year, I had the honour of working as a student guide at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, which is Canada’s memorial to the soldiers of the First World War. The site itself is 1.2 square kilometres of preserved battlefield. On the site, there is the looming Vimy monument—built by Walter Allward in the years following the war—two cemeteries, an area of preserved trenchline, and a preserved segment of the tunneling system that ran under the ridge. In working as a guide at Vimy, I came to reccognize that remembrance is about more than a particular ceremony that takes place every year. Rather, it is an ongoing process that can be realized in many ways.

 

 

One of the most interesting acts of remembrance is through the epitaphs on the tombstones of soldiers. After the First World War, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission began to organize the graves of fallen soldiers into uniform cemeteries. Each tombstone was engraved with the soldier’s name, age, regimental symbol, and if the family wished, an epitaph or inscription. The style of inscription varies amongst individual soldiers. Some are representative of the close empirical ties of Canada and the United Kingdom: “For king and country,” or “He died serving his country.” Some refer to the Bible or religious beliefs: “So lay him down to rest his hard fight won.” Others reflect a more personal sense of loss, like “In loving memory of our dearly beloved and only son.” Regardless of what is inscribed, the epitaphs allow for an individual connection to each soldier as you walk around the cemeteries.

 

 

On a broader level of remembrance are the monuments and cenotaphs that were created following the First World War. One of the most impressive examples of this is the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. While the monument is placed on the site of Vimy Ridge, it is actually a memorial for all Canadian soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War and more specifically those who have no known grave. Engraved on the base of the monument are the names of 11,285 Canadians who died in France and Belgium and whose resting places remain unknown. When you stand on the monument, it is difficult not to be moved. The immense size of the monument in addition to its 20 symbolic features, put into perspective the loss, hardship, and heartbreak of the First World War.

 

 

No matter how you choose to remember, what is clear is that we must always keep in our minds the individual soldiers who gave their lives for peace and freedom. We must ensure that we continuously strive to achieve the ideals that were fought for 100 years ago.