I’ve been going to the Remembrance Day ceremony at Victory Square at the corner of Hastings and Cambie for years. I make a point of being there. As someone who has never had to serve, never had to say agonizing goodbyes, never had to know firsthand the horror of war, I feel that standing in the rain for an hour once a year to honour those who have is important.
The Remembrance Day service is the same every year. The same amplified voice directs the ceremony, the same historic military aircraft fly overhead. The achingly haunting voices of the Vancouver Bach Children’s Chorus sing “White Cliffs of Dover” and other classic melancholy songs. The dignitaries in attendance change, but their titles remain the same: Lieutenant-Governor, Premier, Mayor. Every year the beauty of the children’s voices lilting through the square is underscored by the military precision of drums and bagpipes moving into position on the streets around the cenotaph, and the more menacing sound of boots hitting pavement as honour guards, cadets, and representatives of all our military branches take their places for the ceremony. A deeper hush falls over the already somber crowd as the oldest veterans march into position, the feet of old men and women walking in long-forgotten formation, their hands saluting as crisply as they did as new recruits decades ago. In the drizzle of mid-November, it is an intensely cinematic scene, and is always powerfully moving.
The Remembrance Day service is the same every year. Anthems are sung, prayers are read, and “Abide With Me” rings out, echoing off the surrounding buildings. A Vancouver school child recites an original poem written for the occasion. A minute of silence is observed at precisely 11:00 am. The sound of a gun salute is heard in the distance. Wreaths are placed on the cenotaph. There is meaning in this ritual; a place and time to be silent and remember. Human beings coming together to create community, to honour the oldest and youngest among us who have chosen to serve our country. I am struck by their erect carriage and quiet dignity, and cannot help but weep. I’ve never seen anything more powerful than a man of the World War II generation saluting as tears roll down his cheeks.
The Remembrance Day service is the same every year, except for one thing: with every November that passes, there are fewer of the grey haired and crinkly eyed veterans. The men and women of that generation are leaving us, and their stories and wisdom are going with them. Perhaps that is why every year there are more and more people in attendance. Ten years ago there were, at best, a few hundred of us, huddled together under the grim November sky to pay homage to these brave men and women and their modern counterparts. In the last few years, that has changed. That number has been growing as the numbers of our oldest veterans dwindle. There are more young people, and more families with small children, coming to pay their respects. Last year we numbered in the thousands, and choruses of, “Thank you!” were shouted from the crowd as the ceremony ended and the military and para-military men and women marched away down Hastings Street.
The Remembrance Day service is the same every year. And every year I go to witness it.
Remembrance Day Ceremony
Victory Square, Vancouver
November 11, 2017, 9:45 am