In the fields of remembrance

I’ve always had a special connection to Remembrance Day – ever since I was lucky enough to visit Vimy Ridge as part of a school trip when I was 16.

I have also been fortunate enough to participate in the national service in Ottawa one year when I was the Canada-wide winner of an essay writing contest sponsored by the Royal Canadian Legion.

But it was this past year that helped me reconnect most directly with Remembrance Day, Canada’s military history and the powerful stories of the men and women who have and continue to serve our country so valiantly.

This past spring, I was in Belgium for the International Federation of Agriculture Journalists conference and experienced first-hand some of the sites and memorials of two world wars.

I had the chance to spend a couple of days in Flanders Fields. Now green and serene, these were the muddy killing fields of the First World War that inspired Guelph native Dr. John McCrae to write the now iconic poem, “In Flanders Fields”.

We also visited the Ardenne region that spreads across parts of Belgium, France and Luxembourg and is the site of the bloody Battle of the Bulge in the final months of World War II that was a last ditch effort by Germany to try to stem the Allied advance across Europe.

I walked through the well-maintained war cemeteries of Commonwealth war dead, which includes thousands of Canadians, and saw the small Canadian flags that visitors before me had placed on the graves of our fallen countrymen.

I read the seemingly endless lists of names inscribed on the memorials in small Belgian towns. I attended the moving Last Post ceremony in Ypres that commemorates war dead every night with a wreath laying ceremony in the centre of town.

I shared a moving visit to the Mardasson Memorial, which commemorates the over 75,000 US casualties of the Battle of the Bulge, with some American farm writer colleagues.

And in a more direct tie-in to the topic of agriculture, which is what brought me to Belgium in the first place, we also had the chance to talk to farmers who are still to this day turning up remnants of the wars in the form of unexploded bombs.

I wrote about that experience in a previous blog post.

These many experiences, along with articles I’ve read and documentaries I’ve watched, are all in my mind today as we observe Remembrance Day here in Canada.

There’s no doubt that they’ve served to make the day more real to me and helped me better understand the sacrifices that Canada’s soldiers, both past and present, have made and continue to make to this day in regions across the globe.

Thank you for what you’ve done and for what you continue to do.

Lest we forget.

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