Remembrance Day in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth was established nearly a century ago, at the close of World War I.
The deaths in recent weeks of a pair of Canadian servicemen are certain to make this year’s commemorations particularly relevant to a younger generation that continues to attend and participate in the Nov. 11 ceremonies. They have little direct connection to a century-old conflict, but can certainly recognize one of their own whose images are splashed across social media within hours of his killing.
Warrant officer Patrice Vincent, 53, was killed in a targeted hit-and-run Oct. 20 in Quebec. Just two days later, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist, was killed by a gunman while standing guard at the National War Memorial.
That memorial is the site of Canada’s national Remembrance Day commemoration. You can be sure Cirillo will hold an honorary spot there next Tuesday along with the World War I veterans depicted in bronze.
The original Remembrance Day was held to honour the fallen soldiers of “The Great War”. In Canada it has since been amended to include all members of the Canadian Forces “who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace.”
Vincent and Cirillo were killed not on a far battlefield, but on Canadian soil. Yes, they were targeted attacks — not on the individuals, but on the institutions they represented. Still, beware those who would capitalize on these incidents to assert they are proof the world is a global battlefield, and that we must trade our liberties to ensure security.
The phrase “Lest we forget”, which has become attached to Remembrance Day, is sometimes credited to the Ode of Remembrance, taken from a Lawrence Binyon poem titled For the Fallen and written in 1914 to honour the British war dead of that time. But his refrain is, “We will remember them.”
The actual words lest we forget come from a Rudyard Kipling poem written 17 years before the outbreak of the war, which warns of the fate that can befall even the mightiest armies, nations and even empires if they turn away from their moral core.
November 11 is a day for Cirillo, Vincent, and all those who preceded them while serving on behalf of the high ideals upon which Canada was founded and, despite its missteps with its indigenous peoples and several immigrant populations, to which it may still aspire.
We do not diminish that honour, remembrance and commemoration. We do, however, ask that the rest of the year be given to remembrance of the Canada they served. It remains to the rest of us to preserve and protect that ideal.
Lest we forget.