Reflecting on Remembrance Day

In preparation for Saturday's Chapel service, Reverend Holland asked me to give some context and a reflection on Remembrance Day and its significance here in Canada – and at Shawnigan.
Canada has a special place in the heart of the people and region of Norway that we lived in before coming to Shawnigan.
In 2012 I landed at the local airstrip, placed precariously in the middle of steep and snowy Norwegian mountains, when heading for my interview to become Headmaster of Red Cross Nordic – and was surprised to be met outside by a large granite pillar dedicated to the allied aircrew – including 10 Canadians – who died in February 1945 during an attack on a German destroyer hiding in the nearby fjord. I remember one of them came from British Columbia – his name was O.W Knight.

The Norwegians had erected a monument to honour the allied airmen: it is "Some corner of a foreign field / That is forever Canada."

For those of you unfamiliar with Remembrance Day – which officially takes place on 11th November each year – it is a memorial day, observed in some countries since the end of the First World War, to mark the end of hostilities and to remember those who died in the line of duty.

In Canada, it focuses on remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, this country during times of war, conflict and peace – and those who have lost their lives in the service of peace, at home and abroad.

This year’s Remembrance Day has special significance as it marks the centenary of the ceasefire on 11th November 1918.

Last year, I was invited by Poppy’s godfather, a wilderness guide in South Africa, to travel to Belgium to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of his great uncle in an assault on a German bunker. Although awarded a medal for his bravery in the attack, his body was never found. He is commemorated on the wall of the Menin Gate – a memorial for those 55,000 Commonwealth soldiers missing in action.

As part of our time exploring in and around Ypres, in Belgium, we decided to visit some of the Canadian war memorials.

In the battle of Passchendaele in 1917, nine Canadian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for their outstanding valour, more than in any other battle in the history of Canada.

We learned about the contribution of First Nations soldiers to the allied war effort – at the time of our visit, a centenary race was held to celebrate the life and achievements of Alex Wuttunee Decoteau, a Cree from the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan, who represented Canada at the 5,000 metres in the 1912 Olympics and who died during an attached on the ruined village of Passchendaele.

We visited the medical station where Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian medical officer, wrote his poem In Flanders Fields in tribute to the death of a friend.

His stirring and enduring poem has made the poppy a lasting symbol of self-sacrifice in war.

We also chose to visit the German cemetery of Langemark – a distinct contrast with the design of the Commonwealth cemeteries and very much a graveyard of the defeated.

In one place on our trip, Paul jumped over a ditch and plucked a couple of flowers – a red poppy and a white Vergissmeinnicht / 'forget-me-not’ – and pressed them into a book for me to pass onto his goddaughter, Poppy.

The forget-me-not is a symbol of remembrance for the German soldiers who lost their lives.

60,000 Canadians were killed during the war – and another 172,000 were injured.

To give you some sense of scale of the First World War, Marlborough College, where I taught English Literature in the UK, had 630 students enrolled in the school in 1914 – by the end of the war in 1918, more than 800 Marlborough alumni had been killed (and that figure of course doesn’t include those injured in action). Take all of the students and staff currently at Shawnigan and we would still not be near that number - imagine a generation at a school completely disappearing.

C.W. Lonsdale established Shawnigan in 1916, a phoenix from the ashes of this period.

Shawnigan lost 45 alumni and staff in the Second World War.

On Saturday, Jojo will read the Roll of Honour out – and we shall place 45 crosses in the Quad in their memory.
In fact, Shawnigan stepped forward and provided schooling for the war years of 1939 to 1945 for evacuated students from Marlborough College and other schools in Britain.

At some point this week, take time to look at the bell at the entrance of the Chapel. Our Chapel Bell is from HMS Broadwater, a British Destroyer sunk by a U-Boat in 1941 about 400 miles south of Iceland while escorting an eastbound convoy.

Finally, on Saturday we will sing the Duxbury hymn – ‘I vow to thee, my country’ (my favourite hymn) – a hymn which captures love and loyalty both to homeland and to the kingdom of heaven.

Listen carefully to the lyrics.

I rather like the last line: "And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace."

For me, Remembrance Day is both a time to honour those men and women who have fallen in conflicts – on whichever side - and also to remind ourselves that we must strive for peace – and do our absolute utmost to find those 'paths of peace.'

6th November 2018
Richard D A Lamont
Shawnigan Lake School is an independent boarding school for Grades 8-12 on Canada's West Coast. Our modern, diverse and innovative programming helps shape the next generation of global leaders.