Why Remember?

In October 1916, a 16-year-old boy decided that the war happening in Europe was something worth fighting. He lied about his age and enlisted in Toronto.

Six months later, on April 9, 1917, he was part of a successful, three-day push forward by the combined Canadian Expeditionary Force through three lines of the German forces – the first time that all the Canadians fought together in one battle – a defining moment in the maturing of my country. He had just turned 17. It is believed he died on the first day: April 9, 1917.

It was for him that I visited Vimy Ridge a few years ago. The first member of my family to do so since the Vimy Ridge Memorial, built on land given to the people of Canada by the government of France, was commemorated in July 1936. My throat fills with emotion just thinking about the impact of driving through the Maple Tree lined avenue that leads to the monument, and the physical impact of my first view of it hitting my heart and imagination.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
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.

– Major John McCrea, May 1915 after the Second Battle of Ypres

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