If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In Flanders Fields -- John McCrae
Today was the first Remembrance Day on which there were no veterans of World War I in attendance at our national ceremony in Ottawa. The last survivor living in the Ottawa area passed away earlier this year. The Armistice that ended the Great War went into effect 87 years ago today, meaning that even the worst abuses of "boy soldiers" (whether enrolled at the proper rank of Boy or slipped into the regular ranks) can leave us with no veterans of that war younger than ninety-six.(Yes, folks, there were uniformed people in the world's militaries as young as nine years old. An overgrown 13-year-old could find his way into the infantry if he was determined to do so, and there were Boys used as buglers, drummers and messengers. Boys were supposed to be thirteen, but then I was supposed to be thirteen when I joined the cadet corps too. I was only two and a half years short of that. The only real difference is that nobody was shelling the drill hall when I was a cadet.)
In a lot of ways, World War I was Canada's war of independance. While we legally shed our colonial status in 1867, we were still very much in the war for King and Empire. At the beginning of the war, Canadian troops were treated as just another element of the British army, and would not have operated in consolidated Canadian units at all were it not for the "chum brigade" philosophy. By the end of the war, Canadian troops under Canadian commanders at Ypres and the Somme, at Vimy Ridge, at Amiens, at Passchendael and Cambrai, had won Canada a new status as a fierce, strong, capable and proud people worthy of respect. Our progress from colony to country was paid for with the blood of a quarter million casualties, with the lives of 66,655 young men.
Nearly all of those who came home from the Great War are gone now. Let none of them ever be forgotten.