My grandfather translated the Armistice on 11/11/11. A young American Naval officer from South Carolina, he spoke perfect French and was useful as an aide to the negotiating team. He emerged unscathed from the First World War. Not so fortunate, many members of my father's family in England. He lost a much loved Uncle Wally. My own dad and uncle served in the US Army in the Second World War (through an accident of birth, my dad was born in New York, but had no memory of the US having returned to England with his parents before he was two. Lucky thing that US citizenship. It got him the GI Bill and an education at Columbia University where he met my mum).
The most vivid and horrific stories of the war, however, are those of
my dear friend and mentor, Farley Mowat, and his account of the Italy campaign "And no birds sang." His description of sharing the last moments of a mortally wounded German soldier, his own age, drinking from the same bottle of something strong (that detail does not stay with me) as his "enemy" passed on to the next world, is one of the most brutal and raw and beautiful pieces of writing -- ever.
Memories of family losses, friends lost in the War in Vietnam and the recent and keenly felt mourning for young Canadians killed in Afghanistan washed over me like the misty weather at the Canotaph in London this morning. The gathering of all ages, veterans of an age with all their medals, small boys darting in and out of the crowd , the skirl of bagpipes, and the peel of bells from the new carillon donated by the Dutch Canadian Society emphasized our common humanity. So did for me, quite personally, the fact that I was standing next to the Conservative candidate, Dianne Haskett. It was the first time we have met, and, as I had heard, she is entirely pleasant, warm and welcoming. I feel confident that, despite my strong disagreement with her party's policies and her own well-publicized views on gay rights which I abhor, I see no reason why we cannot treat each other with respect and kindness. I can hate the views, but not the person. This is a challenge for our society. As I stood there pondering the fact that I was standing with my "opponent," I thought of Bill Clinton's story the other night. Of how when Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yassar Arafat, and had to
force himself, President Clinton had commended him for the gesture and Rabin had shrugged, sighed and said, "I guess we don't make peace with our friends." Remembrance Day also falls within the week of the assassination of that blessed peace-maker, killed November 4, 1995.
We remember those who died for peace. We recommit ourselves to see the end of war. We commit with every poppy to build a world of peace and non-violence. Even within our hearts.