“It is possible that with the exception of the Krakatoa explosion of 1883, in all of history no human ears had ever been assaulted by the intensity of sound produced by the artillery barrage that launched the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917.
In the years that followed, the survivors would struggle to describe that shattering moment when 983 artillery pieces and 150 machine guns barked in unison to launch the first British victory in thirty-two months of frustrating warfare. All agreed that for anyone not present that dawn at Vimy it was not possible to comprehend the intensity of the experience. The shells and bullets hurtling above the trenches formed a canopy of red-hot steel just above the heads of the advancing troops – a canopy so dense that any Allied airplane flying too low exploded like a clay pigeon. At least four machines were destroyed that morning by their own guns.
The wall of sound, like ten thousand thunders, drowned out men’s voices and smothered the skirl of the pipe.”
– The opening paragraphs of Vimy by Pierre Berton,
(Pierre Berton Enterprises Ltd., 1986)
This description of Canada’s quintessential First World War battle by one of Canada’s premier history writers explains the tragic beginnings of conventional warfare. Long-range fighting took humanity out of what was previously a savage-but-personal pursuit; two factions battling virtually hand to hand for a piece of earth, power, natural resources or any other reason for warring; one of the most tragic aspects of human existence.
About 66,000 Canadians perished in the First World War, the “War to End All Wars.” Just two decades later, it would happen again. The Second World War saw the deaths of another 43,600 and more than 53,000 wounded.
And Canada’s participation in combat continued through the next 73 years to today. Canadians, in one way or another, were involved in Korea, Vietnam (as part of the U.S. military), the Gulf War, Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq (with U.S. military), Libya and elsewhere.
We are truly blessed it hasn’t happened within our own borders.
There have been advances through that time. Technological developments have provided soldiers from wealthy countries like Canada some protection, but they remain in no less danger. Whether they survive, are injured or die, these men and women make a sacrifice most are not willing to comprehend, nevertheless experience.
Therefore, it is important to, in the very least, consider them this one day, Remembrance Day. We have not seen their horror. We have not heard the sound of “ten thousand thunders.” By virtue of pure chance, most Canadians have experienced nothing but peace and freedom.
But that peace and freedom was paid for by young men and women willing to defend us and our allies around the world. When we think Remembrance Day, many flash to the tens of thousands who fought in the infamous First and Second World Wars.
However, we must pay respect to the many hundreds of thousands more – alive and dead – who have fought our fights since the tragic first-half of the 20th Century.
They deserve more than a tip of the hat on one day a year. They deserve our daily gratitude for the freedom, prosperity and safety many of us take for granted without a second thought.
Therefore, should you see a member of our military out in public at any time of the year – whether you agree with the actions they are forced to take or not – shake their hand and say, “Thank you.”
Remembrance Day is a 24-hour period we have set aside to commemorate the men and women who have fought for Canada.
This does not mean we should fail to be grateful 365 days a year.