How will you remember? Renewing our connection with Remembrance Day

By Becky Benoit

PHOTO: Metro Creative Connection

PHOTO: Metro Creative Connection

Along with the first flakes of snow and the falling temperatures, Remembrance Day is upon us once again. The response to the annual day of remembrance is mixed – for some, especially those who feel a personal connection to the idea of veterans and war, the day is a solemn one, a time for remembering the fallen and honouring their sacrifice.

For others, it’s more difficult to forge a connection between ourselves and those who fought and died for our freedom. The World Wars represent cataclysms that linked nations and forged communities, uniting Canadians in a sense of purpose and a very real fear of what might happen should that purpose fail. The incredible loss of life impacted nearly every person and every family – even if you were among those lucky enough not to have lost a loved one, everyone knew someone who had gone away to the war, never to return.

But as those memories fade, and the decades stretch out between our present and those war-torn days of fear and hope, it becomes more of a challenge for some to make that personal connection that turns Remembrance Day into something real and important instead of just another day off work.

There are plenty of unique ways to forge a link between yourself and those who sacrificed for the freedom of all Canadians, beyond the usual tried-and-true Remembrance Day activities such as attending a ceremony, wearing a poppy or reading “In Flanders’ Fields”.

Do Your Homework: Thanks to the internet, information about the role Canadians played in war has never been more accessible. There are a host of great websites which offer information, videos and audio clips and photographs of Canadians at war. Veterans Affairs’ website offers a rare peek at some of the lesser-known aspects of the Canadian war effort, such as the role of women in war, the experience of Christmas at the front, the sacrifices of Aboriginal Canadians, and the experiences of modern-day veterans in Afghanistan.

The Canadian War Museum is another great online resource to help you find out more about the experiences of Canadian soldiers. From contemporary war-themed art exhibitions to maps and photographs from key Canadian battles in the first and second World Wars, there’s enough information to keep you busy for hours on this site.

Actually hearing the words of veterans reminiscing about their experiences of war, seeing the actual landscape of the battlefield through photographs or  hearing the sounds of war through audio clips can help bring home the reality of battle, even though the sounds and sights that shaped a nation have long since faded into memory.

Get Involved: Pinning on a poppy and attending a Remembrance Day ceremony are always good ways to connect with the solemnity and importance of the day, but if you’re looking for a way to remember that’s a little more out-of-the box, consider these suggestions from Veterans Affairs.

Flowers and their symbolism have always played an important role in how we honour and remember veterans. The poppy is the most familiar and recognizable of these symbols, but there are many others. In Newfoundland on July 1, the forget-me-not is worn by many as a symbol of their remembrance of the WW I Battle of the Somme, while the humble daisy stands as a sign of the Netherlands’ resistance during WWII. If you’ve got a green thumb, you can grow an entire flower garden of remembrance, or consider starting a few seedlings in small pots as a way to remember.

Find out about some of the sacrifices made by everyday Canadians by researching wartime rationing, and prepare a menu or even a cookbook using the substitutes that Canadians at home utilized as they “did their part” for the war effort. As you’re puzzling over a substitute for sugar or trying to half the amount of butter in your recipe, it’s easy to imagine the same struggle faced by those at home as they waited for news from the front.

Join the Community: If you look far enough back in your family tree, you’re almost guaranteed to find someone who contributed to the war effort. Talk to your family members and find out who in your family tree served and in what capacity. You might find a young soldier, a war correspondent, an ambulance driver. I was surprised to discover that my grandmother worked in a factory in wartime England, producing parts for B-52 bombers. Check out the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, which allows you to search for family members by name.

There are plenty of online communities where you can make a connection and share your thoughts and feelings about war and Remembrance Day with others. Veterans Affairs has a Facebook page and Twitter feed, or you can always start the conversation yourself by creating a page or a group for others to share.

Remembrance Day has long been an important day to remember and reflect, but this year, with the recent deaths of Canadian soldiers on our own home soil, it seems more important than ever to make a personal connection to Remembrance Day, and those who sacrificed for our freedom.