Remembrance Day dates back over 100 years to the armistice ending WWI in 1918. On November 11th at 11 am each year, we pause in a moment of silence to honour and remember the men and women who have served our country in times of war, conflict and peace.
The world’s great writers have long chronicled the horrors of war and its traumatic impact on its participants. John McCrae was a Canadian physician and poet, who at the age of 41 in 1914, volunteered with the Canadian military as a gunner and medical officer. In an April,1915 letter, he wrote of the chaotic nightmare he experienced during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium and the first mass use of chlorine gas as a weapon by the German army:
For seventeen days and nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time, while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds … And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.
Soon after, a close friend was killed in battle, and the next day McCrae wrote the famous “In Flanders Fields”:
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
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.
For those who survive, the end of war and the return home often does not end the nightmare. A beautiful and haunting song by Bruce Springsteen, Shut Out The Light, poignantly relates the returning soldier’s ongoing struggle. His wife, family and friends all want to make life normal for him again, but how can it ever be:
He felt her lying next to him, the clock said 4 am
He was staring at the ceiling, he couldn’t move his hands …
On his porch they stretched a banner that said “Johnny Welcome Home”
Bobby pulled his Ford out of the garage and they polished up the chrome
His mama said “Johnny oh Johnny, I’m so glad to have you back with me”
His pa said he was sure they’d give him his job back down at the factory
But Johnny is haunted by his experience in Vietnam, and he pleads for his mother to just hold him tight:
Deep in a dark forest, a forest filled with rain
Beyond a stretch of Maryland pines, there’s a river without a name
In the cold black water Johnson Leneir stands
He stares across the lights of the city and dreams of where he’s been
Oh mama mama, mama come quick
I’ve got the shakes and I’m gonna be sick
Throw your arms around me in the cold dark night
Hey now mama, don’t shut out the light
To all our Veterans, thank you for your service and sacrifice, and may we never shut out the light on you.