Saturday, October 23, 2004

Of Flowers and Money

Lots of people are up in arms over the Canadian Mint's rather poor effort at honouring Canadian troops. Apprently, the coloured poppy on the quarter rubs off rather easily, making the quarter look only slighty sillier than the regular ones. Those of us who feel strongly about Canada's military history feel this gesture on the part of the Mint wasn't really thought out very well. In fact, I find myself thinking a rather sarcastic "nice try".
In this comment thread, the author of this blog (caution: click at your own risk... it's a leftie blog), links to a short history of the poem and it's author (John Macrae), who died in WW1. Macrae penned the legendary poem entitled "In Flanders Fields", a beautifully horrific poem that was written in the midst of some of the worst fighting of the Great War (The poem can be found at the above link as well).

Trench warfare.
Waves upon waves of human target practice.
Diseased and deceased laying side by side.

The poem was written during the second battle of Ypres. Thousands of Canadian, French, British, and German troops died for what amounts to a couple hundred square kilometres of muddy real estate. John Macrae was there, in the midst of it, and nearly 90 years later, Canadian school children recite his poem on November 11th (on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month).

Why is it so damned important to Canadians? Why do we get pissed off at our Liberal Government for hacking our military into a shell of its former self? Why do we feel angst and anger over something as silly as a stupid quarter? Because, as history tells us, Canadians weren't always weak-kneed pacifists. The contributions of the Canadian military in WW1 cannot be understated:

What of the aftermath of the battle? Firstly, the Germans did not follow up their advantage. The attack was essentially a testing ground for the new weapon and not a major offensive. As a result, the Germans, dubious of any major success, had failed to provide sufficient reserves with which to exploit the initial resulting gap. Had the Germans broken through to Ypres and continued southward along the Yser Canal, they would have cut off 50,000 British and Canadian troops and removed the salient. But through the determined defence of the Canadians, they could not carry through with the forces at hand.
On the Canadian side.... The Canadians to a man seemed obsessed with the idea that this was their particular battle and that they would perish where they stood rather than give way. The nationalistic policy of keeping the Canadians together as a unit received strong reinforcement from this battle. The "colonials" had made good and were fitted to take their place, as a separate entity, by the side of the finest British and French fighting divisions. Everywhere throughout France and Belgium the word "Canada" was greeted with enthusiasm and the work of the division was appreciated to its fullest value. ***
Second Ypres proved to be the worst battle the 1st Canadian Division would fight in the course of the war, however its result was the starting point of the strong reputation Canadian troops developed during the war.

Emphasis Mine, and proudly so. Before WW1, Canada was still a dominion. Perhaps not technically, or even officially, but we were most certainly a satellite of the former British Empire. After WW1, We were a nation. We were Canada. We were independant and strong. And everyone knew it. Especially the Germans.

Ypres played a huge role in confirming our identity

But as long as brave deeds retain the power
to fire the blood of Anglo-Saxons, the stand made
by the Canadians in those desperate days will be-
told by fathers to their sons
; for in the military
records of Canada this defence will shine as brightly
as, in the records of the British Army, the stubborn
valour with which Sir James Macdonnel and the
Guards beat back from Hougoumont the Division
of Foy and the Army Corps of Reille.
The Canadians wrested from the trenches, over
the bodies of the dead and maimed, the right to
stand side by side with the superb troops who, in the
battle of Ypres, broke and drove before them the
flower of the Prussian Guards.
Looked at from any point, the performance would
be remarkable. It is amazing to soldiers, when the
genesis and composition of the Canadian Division
are considered.
It contained, no doubt, a sprinkling
of South African veterans, but it consisted in the
main of men who were admirable raw material, but
who at the outbreak of war were neither disciplined
nor trained, as men count discipline and training in
these days of scientific warfare.
The graveyard of Canada in Flanders is large.
It is very large. Those who lie there have left their
mortal remains on alien soil. To Canada they have
bequeathed their memories and their glory.

I get teary-eyed just thinking about it, and I'm not known for my teary-eyedness. Here we have a prime example of heroism at its finest. A magnificent coin would be the least we could do to honour the past. But a pathetic, piffy, faulty coin is no honour, it is an insult.

We can do a lot better than that. We should do a lot better than that.
When you wear your poppy on Remembrance day, think about what it symbolizes. Wear it with pride.

And Never Forget.