Honouring the Fallen – 100 Years of Remembrance
November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. A century earlier, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, hostilities in the First World War came to an end. Commonly observed in Canada and across the Commonwealth as Remembrance Day, memorial services are held to honour and commemorate those who served and those who died in service of their country.
Some symbols and acts of remembrance used to mark this solemn day, and their significance, are universal across all of the Commonwealth. The poppy, for example, is a familiar emblem of remembrance in Canada and abroad. Those of us who recall the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian physician John McCrae may also credit it with the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
Fewer of us are likely aware that the custom of wearing a poppy should instead be credited to Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia. After the end of the First World War, Michael took inspiration from the well-known opening verse of McCrae’s poem and conceived the idea of selling silk poppies to raise funds to assist disabled veterans. The practice was subsequently adopted by veterans’ groups in other nations including in Canada. The Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Fund continues to provide financial assistance and support for Canadian veterans.
Canada also retains certain traditions that are unique to its celebration of remembrance. The selection of a Silver Cross Mother is one such tradition. This tradition is named for the Silver Cross, a medal historically awarded to the mother or next-of-kin of any member of the Canadian Forces who lost their life in the line of duty. Each year dating back to 1936, the Royal Canadian Legion has chosen one such mother as the National Silver Cross Mother. As part of the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the Silver Cross Mother lays a wreath on behalf of all mothers who have lost a child or loved one in service of their country.
The selection of this year’s recipient, Anita Cenerini, is a watershed moment in dispelling the stigma surrounding mental illness and post-traumatic stress in veterans. It is the first time in the history of the custom that the honour has been bestowed on a mother whose child’s life was taken not in active duty, but personally, after a battle with the effects of post-traumatic stress. The Royal Canadian Legion is optimistic that this year’s ceremony will encourage veterans battling the effects of PTSD and mental illness, as well as their loved ones, to reach out for assistance and counselling.
Thanks for reading. Lest we forget.