I must admit – the first time I ever walked into the Legion here in Canmore it was with very mixed feelings. I was born in Germany in 1964 and the war was long over by then. But Germany had started and lost both world wars.
I grew up with a lot of war guilt. History class hammered it in again and again.
Alongside Austria-Hungary, Germany had fought and lost a fierce battle in World War I from 1914 to 1918. A war that claimed 16 million casualties. Canadian troops fought alongside troops from Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan, and the United States against troops from Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.
In 1939, Germany started WWII with the invasion of Poland. The war lasted 6 years. It was the deadliest conflict in human history and resulted in over 80 million fatalities.
As a teenager my parents sent me for a year to a private school in South-West England. Every Saturday was movie time. I still remember those nights when war movies were shown and, on the way out of the movie hall, the younger kids would shoot their pretend guns at me and call me names. I surrendered and just smiled at them shyly. I carried the guilt of a whole nation.
Then there was Daniel’s family. Daniel was a school mate and we got along well. They invited me over and I started to spend weekends with them. How surprised was I to learn that Daniel’s father had been an air navigator in the British Air Force and that he had dropped bombs on Cologne – my hometown in Germany. And yet, they took me in with open arms and made my life abroad a little easier for me. They became my family abroad and we are now friends for life.
So walking into the Legion with pictures of war scenes on the wall, flags, and war relics, I felt intimidated and I didn’t quite know what to expect when people heard my German accent. I was relieved to find that my worries had been entirely needless. From that first time until today, I spent many happy hours at the legion together with people who lost loved ones in one of the wars, people who I may now call friends and never have I ever heard a word of accusation. I learned that remembering and honouring those who fell for their country doesn’t mean to condemn the other side. I learned that forgiveness and openness can open hearts, touch souls, and form new bonds and friendships.
The poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian doctor Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae published in 1915 inspired the use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Let us on this year’s Remembrance Day remember all the fallen soldiers who lost their lives fighting for their countries then and still today. Let us support the Legion which does a fabulous job for our Canadian veterans.
If we have learned anything from the past it should be that war is the face of terror, that we have the utmost responsibility to use diplomacy to solve our conflicts and that war must be our very last resource only when everything else has failed. We need to have a steady hand for this. Now more than ever!