November Eleventh

The elm tree in Victory Square gives up another yellowy leaf, fluttering softly to the damp ground.

The Cenotaph. The eleventh month, the eleventh day, the eleventh hour. The large crowd is not restless, there is too much respect in the chill air to be restless. Only soldiers’ ghosts have the right to be restless this poignant hour. Looking over shoulders toward the marble monument. Flags are bright against the morning dull of overcoats and scarves.

The elm steals attention, burnt orange and yellow and faded green leaves now sparse on its dark wet branches. The Vancouver Bach Youth Choir sings beautifully beneath it, an ethereal sound, angelic voices coaxing the leaves to let go, asking our minds to remember.

The 15th Field Artillery Regiment begins the 21 gun salute with a dull thump in the thick misty air, startling only nervous pigeons to fly in circling squadrons. Marching cadets and full dress troops arrive in a staccato rhythm, heels upon pavement, commanded to halt by a disjointed voice. Military uniforms are especially crisp for this day. A full dress RCMP constable standing near with the scarlet tunic and perfect polished boots.


Well we've come from Picadilly Circus, and we plan to spend the day abroad,

and we hope to make it a surprise, so don't you tell.

Yes, we started early in the morning, we'll be there before the crack of dawn,

and you'll know by looking in the skies, you'll know darn well.

The crowd singing Oh Canada, with softness and pride, knowing we are the best. A patient grey sky of swirling cloud holds back its rain. A large old transport plane with full flaps down to fly as slow as possible glides overhead. Another cannon thump. Gulls circle above, watchful of food. Curious crows disappear into the dark evergreens. A poem is read by a high school student. Children’s voices in the crowd. Murmurs. Here and there a solemn glistening tear on a lined face.


So we're out here floating on the water, we can almost see the other shore,

when we get there then they'll know the party has begun.

And we'll take the day upon the beaches, doesn't matter if there is no sun,

'cause we won't be looking for a tan for anyone.

Many younger families clustered in an area they would never go to normally. A car alarm squawks irreverence, perhaps a comment to an almost forgotten generation. Bagpipes wailing, reproachful of modern interruptions. A phalanx of antique planes now circling, buzzing engines. The planes seem to fly so slow now. The earth smell is not unpleasant. Nor the odour of damp wool. Pipe smoke drifts through the crowd. Coughs from some who shouldn’t be out.


Oh that man there might have been your uncle, or a brother who was very dear,

or a father, never having seen, his little son.

Now he's lying softly in the grasses, and he keeps on looking at the sky,

and he's slowly giving up his dreams, one by one.

The elder Sergeant’s voice giving directions to the parade troops, losing its strength with a crackle. The Chaplain gives a prayer, I catch words, ‘in the journey through life’, and give a silent thanks that my passage has been without the fright of war, without the fear of death, without the tragic loss of dear ones.

My mind drifts to Belgium, a few years ago, of feeling a duty to visit Tyne Cot Cemetery. The largest Canadian World War II Memorial, even though I had no name to search for carved on any monument. Standing amid the wheat fields in a summer breeze where a sprinkling of red from poppies still shows, giving thanks that I was allowed to roam at will in a free Europe.


For we had one hardened resolution, and it was to rid the world of pain,

though we feared for fife you know we kept that rendezvous.

And we're asking that you don't forget us, even though so many years go by,

and you must remember that it all, was just for you.

And in my free Canada, the laying of wreaths begins, dignitaries, officials and crippled old military men weighted down by their chests of medals, saluting a memory, a face, a daring-do friend, perhaps a chipper smile from long ago. Their bodies are crisp and straight for the salute, if only for a moment. Then they hobble back to their place in the hushed crowd. Their valor can never be extinguished.

Another thud from the artillery. War is different now. Can individual bravery and courage exist today? Listening to the choir sing, Abide With Me, in awe at the beauty of the music and words hung in the mist. The elm tree sheds another leaf, then another. Dropping silently to the moist brown earth, as many a soldier did in a strange land.


Normandy, Normandy, it's all coming back to me, I hope we haven't truly died in vain.

Normandy, Normandy, we fought for your liberty, and yes, we'd like to see you once again.


The thump of the artillery once more. The two minute silence. Children’s frail voices. Yet not disturbing to those in reverie, they are free because of these fallen GrandDads.  Lest we forget, lest we forget, at this moment, Kipling's greatest lines. Almost a century after the signing of the first armistice, we are gathered on this cool autumn morning to remember.  There’ll be Bluebirds over, the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow, you just wait and see. And there were.

The clusters of dress parade begin to move off. Straight backed young cadets, a rhythmic shuffle, perhaps understanding for the first time what glory is.  'To you from failing hands we throw, the torch, be yours to hold it high ... '  And crippled old veterans, walking as best they can. Able to show a resolve in their eyes to all who would see it. To lead the way even at this long time from the event of their courage. Perhaps able to incite the young men gazing at them to be the very best they can be.  And I hoping that they are able to hear and receive my thanks as they pass.


The eleventh month ....   the eleventh day ......      the eleventh hour.


The elm gives away another yellow leaf fluttering down, not to die in vain,
but to give life to that glorious tree for a future world.


Remembrance day,  any year.



Heaven Bound



© R.C. Westerholm                           Normandy  ©  by RC Westerholm - SOCAN


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