Hopefully you had a chance to make it down to Brennan Park for the Remembrance Day Ceremony. If you didn’t hopefully you had a minute today to give a thought to our world’s history and those who laid down their lives and fought as best they could during the wars of the last century. If you didn’t, take that time tomorrow and learn something about the reason you have a day off work. I always take this day, and blog post, very seriously and I’m putting it up late as I spent the day today thinking about what exactly I wanted to say and how best to say it. I know this doesn’t reach everyone (many of you won’t even have got this far, and Heathers gone to bed so this is coming straight out how I’m thinking it and has no editing. What I want to share today is why this day feels so important to me as I feel this story’s got a little more to it than a “cut and paste” history lesson (of which format I will most likely return to next year).
In Armstrong where I grew up History 12 is taken very seriously, the teacher who taught for many years before I attended (he taught my parents) and still taught it for many years after me (he taught all my sisters), has been presented awards and recognition many times over for consecutively producing students with the highest scores on the provincial exam. To better paint the picture of what he was able to get out of people: my marks outside of the wood shop and gym were poor, some quite poor. 51% in Physics, dropped out of Math 12 (to a “what do you think you’ll be able to do with your life” comment as I walked out), and you can see how my English has fared. My final score on my History 12 provincial exam was 98% (3rd in the province that year). He was an excellent teacher and he was also very very strict, but it wasn’t what happened in that classroom that produced those results.
As a lead up to History 12 (20th century history) in the spring of grade 11 there is an option for any student (who can afford it) to spend 3 weeks in Europe on a field trip (20-30 students usually attend)… In September of grade 11 this was the last thing on my mind. With a family of 5 children (one disabled), a struggling farm, and the heat and phone getting cut off from time to time this was also not really an option… But, the Mama decided otherwise. She felt that it was very important and “be damned” if each of us kids wasn’t going to go. So she signed me up. I attended all the meetings, helped with all the fundraising the school did including Christmas Poinsettia sales, got a passport, travellers cheques, appropriate currency for each country, and somehow Mama produced all 5 of the $500 checks (how she did this once let alone 4 times I will never know, or will likely be able to guess at the sacrifices). But off I went, and “be damned” if I wasn’t going to see and learn all I could! We spent a week in London, attended Phantom of the Opera, saw Piccadilly Circus, London Tower, some place where Shakespeare put on his plays, and many other things before heading over to France for the second week. In France I learned what what I never expected to: That you can read all the textbooks you want and watch all the videos but you don’t know a god damn thing until you stood on the same ground. And to see so much of the land still cratered from bombs that dropped 54 years earlier, to see the piles of live ammunition (shells and grenades) that farmers pile up at designated pick up locations from tiling them up in the fields when they disc, to walk through a concentration camps and be able to feel the evil of the place like it’s seeped into the soil, to stand and see the crosses row on row and look down from a german bunker hundreds of feet to where Allied forces would have landed (it’s almost impossible to believe even one person made it off the beach), to walk through the catacomb of mines near Vimy Ridge where men would spend weeks underground tunnelling and it would rain 3 days after it rained on the surface…… and to pause, and realize that these were the efforts of people, men and women our own age or younger, who had lives, and families, and were also far from home. In a time without cell phones, and Skype, and Facebook, and the Internet. No quick contact with your friends back home, no status updates, no access to any other news than that of where you were, no 3-5 square meals, warm showers, king sized beds, or all the other amenities we rarely even give a second thought to. Just living, fighting, and dying in the mud.
These things have stuck with me since I was there and I think about those men and women who did and did not return from time to time, when I feel hard done by, or that I work too many hours, or don’t get enough of what I want, and on Nov. 11th I try my best to act on those thoughts and let them know that we have not forgotten. Please take a minute and think about what it would have been like.
Thanks to Mr. Lonsdale for the efforts involved with a labour of love, and as always the Mama for seeing further than I could see.