For years I attended, and covered, Remembrance Day events. I always feel the emotions, the weight of loss, but never thought much about the political implications of the ceremonies. To me, we paid homage to the old soldiers who fought on our behalf in the wars of the distant past, the two World Wars in particular.
But as time has gone on and the veterans from those wars are harder and harder to find, the ceremonies have taken on a different meaning for me. I know some people who argue that Remembrance Day is too much of a celebration of war and does not offer enough of a critique against the decision to go to war, but while I understand that line of reasoning, I think it misses the point of the day.
To me it is about the veterans, who did the bidding of our elected representatives whether the decision to send them to war was wise or unwise, and about the Royal Canadian Legion as a fluid institution, and its role as a reminder of the past and as a force in our local communities.
This comes to the fore in particular this year after the loss of the Legion branch in Northbrook. Over the years, members of that branch have played a role at North Addington Education Centre, supported numerous fund raising efforts at Pine Meadow Nursing Home, and kept the connections between aging veterans in the surrounding communities alive.
The branch closed because the number of active members had dwindled to the point where there was no way to keep operating, which is another example of the fragility of the community organisations that are so vital to keeping our small communities alive in this era of shrinking and aging populations.
Fortunately the Arden Legion has stepped forward and conducted Remembrance Day ceremonies last Sunday in Flinton and Denbigh, in addition to the two they run in Mountain Grove and Arden on November 11.
The other function of Remembrance Day is to remind us of the cost of war.
One is about a documentary based on the war time experiences of Flinton resident Harry Andringa in his native Holland, where he witnessed the impact of the Nazi regime on Dutch Citizens in general and Jews in particular. The stories are harrowing. The other is about Canadian Navy vet Bob Stinson of Sydenham, who, although he never really knew it at the time, almost got caught up in a battle for supremacy between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev over missiles in Cuba. Both remind us of the arbitrariness of war on those who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.