This post marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s Armistice.
The last to fall
In the early morning of November 11, 1918, the 28th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, arrived in the village of Havré, Belgium, having secured all bridges on the Canal du Centre. There, around 9 a.m., while facing Ville-sur-Haine across the canal, they received news that all hostilities were to cease at 11:00 a.m.
Fearing that the battalion’s position exposed them to enemy fire, a five-man patrol crossed the canal to search neighbouring houses. There, they discovered enemy soldiers mounting machine guns along a brick wall overlooking the canal.
The troops exchanged fire.
In the short ensuing battle, Private George Lawrence Price, a soldier from Nova Scotia, was fatally shot in the chest. He died, at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918. This Canadian was to be the last soldier of the British Empire to be killed during the First World War.
Two minutes later, on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month 1918, guns fell silent, ending what was supposed to be “the war that would end all wars”.
In Flanders Fields
Since then, red poppies have become a powerful and apolitical symbol of remembrance of those who lost their life in this and in the too-many conflicts that followed. The Remembrance poppy was inspired by the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields”, written by another Canadian, the physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. McCrae enlisted, fearing more his conscience if he stayed home than the war itself.
McCrae wrote his famous poem on May 3, 1915, the day after he buried a close friend, Alexis Helmer, an Ottawa hero, killed in battle by direct hit from enemy shell. There, in the midst of the deadly Second Battle of Ypres, exhausted and saddened, McCrae looked up from the tailgate of a wooden field ambulance cart and saw beauty in the hellscape around him. Red poppies everywhere, resiliently growing from the churned-up earth of soldiers’ graves in Flanders fields. Within a few minutes he wrote:
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.
McCrae did not see the end of the war. He died, at Boulogne, on January 28, 1918. He was buried, with full military honours, in the Wimereux War Cemetery. His horse and war companion, Bonfire, lead the procession, with McCrae’s riding boots reversed in the stirrups.
Each year, from the last Friday of October until November 11, the Royal Canadian Legion conducts its Poppy Campaign, along with thousands of volunteers from coast to coast to coast, to raise funds in support of Veterans and their families. Each years, tens of millions of Canadians wear a Poppy as a visual pledge to never forget those who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice.
This year, the Royal Canadian Legion launched its first-ever Digital Poppy. Through this online campaign, Canadians are able to personalize, dedicate and share their poppy online. We, at Condo Adviser, have pledged online and have added our own Digital Poppy to all of our posts (either to the right or below the post, depending on whether you are reading us on a computer or on a mobile device). We invite you to click on it and make your own poppy.
On Remembrance Day this year, I will lay a wreath at the National War Memorial on behalf of Gowling WLG.
Lest we forget.