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Orangeville Legion commemorates 100th Remembrance Day anniversary

December 7, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the world remembers.

Sunday, Nov. 11 was the 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day, marking the end of the First World War, and a time for truly everyone to remember and honour those brave men and women who have, and currently are serving their countries.

Orangeville’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch 233 held this annual, but special ceremony at Alexandra Park. A crowd of hundreds gathered around the cenotaph to pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Veterans, young and old, local dignitaries, members of Orangeville Police Service, fire department, paramedic service, and Dufferin-Caledon MP David Tilson were just some of those in attendance to lay wreaths and poppies around the cenotaph.

“It’s a special occasion,” said Legion President Derrick Landry. “I’ve laid wreaths before, but today to lay one for the Branch, it was fantastic, it was really good.”

Around the world, bells rang out 100 times to mark this historical and sombre moment.

“We owe our democracy, our peace, to all those who fought,” Mr. Tilson told the Citizen. “There is lots of people in this town whose forefathers and foremothers fought in that war, and it’s very meaningful.”

The First World War was the first global war. Dubbed the Great War, and at the time “the war to end all wars,” an arms race, a tense built up of alliances and treaties between the great powers and its colonial allies, all contributed to one of the deadliest conflicts in history. But it was an assassin’s bullet that triggered it all.

On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb Yugoslav nationalist, assassinated the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. A month later, war began and quickly spread around the world. It settled into a conflict between the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire, and the Triple Entente of Russia, France, the Great Britain and her colonies, and eventually Italy and the United States.

“It’s just terrible. The war conditions are beyond what you can imagine,” said Mr. Landry.

Fighting in the Western Front was marked by trench warfare in Belgium and France, with a tactical stalemate that lasted for almost the entire war, which was dubbed “no man’s land.” The cold, wet and muddy conditions the soldiers lived in were gruelling; rats, trench foot, disease, and lice, among others were rampant.

The war was one of technological innovations and revolutions, including heavy machine guns, barbed wire, airplanes, tanks, communication, and artillery. This resulted in battles of attrition, including Passchendaele, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, and Verdun, which resulted in either stalemates, or little ground gained for hundreds of thousands of lives.

“It did impact the entire world,” noted Mr. Landry. Fighting took place not just across Europe, but Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Mr. Tilson reflected on a time he met a veteran from the war who had a raspy voice. “He had been in the gas attacks and it affected his voice. He didn’t like to talk about it, and that says a lot of what they went through for our democracy.”

Common in the war was the use of chemical weapons, particularly chlorine and mustard gas that led to painful and excruciating death.

“That was the war that Canada really came into existence,” Mr. Tilson added. In particular, Vimy Ridge was the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), under a Canadian-born commander, fought together, making it a symbol of Canadian independence, national achievement and unity. By war’s end, over 60,000 Canadians died.

“Wars fought in far-off lands by soldiers we never knew can seem distant, remote and unattached to us,” said Orangeville Mayor Jeremy Williams, but “hearing the names of the fallen, reading their inscriptions on the cenotaph and knowing they walked our streets and once lived in the town we call home brings the far off battles close to us.”

The German Spring Offensive in 1918 was initially a success, but was driven back at the Battle of Amiens, which led to the Hundred Days Offensive. By the time the armistice was signed, the Ottoman, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires were replaced by new states, with the Russian Empire overthrown in 1917 to become the first-ever socialist country.

In total, the war claimed 15 to 20 million lives, many of them civilians. Millions more were wounded, in body and spirit.

The memorial symbol of the war is the poppy, in part thanks to Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrea, who wrote the poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’

“I wear the poppy as a sign of respect for those who served our country in the defence of the liberties and values we hold dear,” commented Mayor Williams. “It is the very least we can do to show others we appreciate the service given.”

Though there are no veterans left from the war, Mr. Landry said they would feel proud to be recognized, but wouldn’t really talk about it. “A lot of them didn’t join the legion because they didn’t want to be reminded of the conflict.”



         

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