Large crowd was on hand for Tuesday’s Cenotaph ceremony

November 12, 2014   ·   0 Comments

On July 28, 1914, the first World War erupted, a war of which the ripple effects would be felt for generations to come. With over 9 million combatants, and 7 million civilian deaths, it became one of the deadliest conflicts in our history, and lead the way towards the Great Depression and political changes that would ripple into yet another World War less than 30 years later.

On Tuesday, Canadians across the country joined together to reflect and remember the lives of those lost, not just in the first war, but in the conflicts that followed, and the ones that still rage on today.

This year, we received a somber and devastating reminder that conflicts around the world are closer to home than we would like; a reminder that the men and women who serve in our militia, who proudly wear our Canadian uniforms, are putting their lives on the line every day.

Residents of Orangeville and its surrounding municipalities gathered along Broadway, leading up to the Cenotaph for the Remembrance Day ceremony on Tuesday. Perhaps in part because of the pleasant fall day, the gathering was one of the largest in a long time, as delegated officials, fire, police, ambulance, schools, military and residents joined in reflection at the Cenotaph.

“With these recent events involving Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, I think it’s made Canadians more patriotic than ever,” explained local author Hugh Brewster.

Mr. Brewster, who writes books about Canadians in WWI and WWII, will be participating in this weekend’s WOW (Words the Orangeville Way) event at the Orangeville Public Library, and the timing of his presentation sliding seamlessly into current events.

“I’m going to be talking about the Canadians in World War One and their involvement following Vimy,” said Mr. Brewster. “I think World War One runs very deep in this country. Wherever I go, I give a talk, and someone always comes forward about a story involving their relative in the war.”

“People remember it, even though it was a century ago.”

His new book, From Vimy to Victory: Canada’s Fight to the Finish in WWI, released in September, examines the role Canadians played in the final stages of the war. The soldiers, considered the ‘shock troops’ of the British army, led the way, one victory after another until the end of the war on November 11, 1918.

“When I was growing up, we never heard anything about what Canadians did in the wars, in movies or books,” said Mr. Brewster. “We heard all about the Americans, and I wanted to know more. I think we’ve done a much better job of educating people over the last decade.”

His talk at the Orangeville Library on Saturday will be an audio/visual presentation of the experiences of young Canadians during World War I. The presentation, which will include photographs and remastered footage, will also feature a talk on the assault on Vimy Ridge and the Hundred Days Offensive of the Canadian shock troops.

“People always tell me after my presentations that I give a very moving talk about things they didn’t know about their history,” he said. “My talks have become quite popular, and it will be great to present it here.”

It can be hard to keep younger generations educated and aware of the importance of the two world wars when they have been so far removed from them, which makes Mr. Brewster’s talk a valuable asset this year.

In author Heather Robertson’s 1977 book, A Terrible Beauty, The Art of Canada at War, she explains that remembering and learning about what happened is important, because if we don’t, the sacrifice of Canadian lives becomes meaningless.

“They died for us, for their homes and families and friends, for a collection of traditions they cherished and a future they believed in; they died for Canada,” she wrote. “The meaning of their sacrifice rests with our collective national consciousness; our future is their monument.”

At a ceremony for the 100 year anniversary of World War I in Ottawa in August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the sentries who guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers would be extending their hours annually.

“From this day forth, the sentries at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will extend their solemn vigil from Vimy Ridge Day every April, until Remembrance Day each fall,” he said.

The Tomb, which stands at the War Memorial, honours the unidentified Canadians who have died in combat. Approximately 60,000 Canadians lost their lives in the First World War, with an additional 45,000 deaths in World War II.

“Justice and freedom, democracy and the rule of law, human rights, and human dignity; for a century these are the things for which our fellow citizens – including so many in this room – have fought,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper to those who attended the Ottawa Ceremony. “And this is the ground on which we will always take our stand.”

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