This Remembrance Day will be different: Cpl. Cirillo has made it real
(Written by Richard Foot) This year, at cenotaphs across Canada, Remembrance Day will be different. For the first time in many years, the ceremonies will feel relevant and raw to most of the gathered pilgrims. Corporal Nathan Cirillo’s killing has made sure of that.
Canadians first started communing around military cenotaphs in 1902, at the end of the Boer War, when the nation indulged in a great, patriotic burst of memorial-building. Monuments to Canada’s first foreign war were erected in city parks and town squares from Victoria to Halifax. Over the next decade, huge crowds would gather around them to celebrate – yes, celebrate – the imperial victory in South Africa.
By 1918 the mood had changed dramatically. The trauma and slaughter of the First World War meant that new memorials would be built, but this time they were mostly sombre creations – like the National War Memorial where Cpl. Cirillo was gunned down on Oct. 22 – designed not to celebrate military achievement but simply to honour the dead. The hour of annual remembrance was fixed at 11 a.m. on 11 November, the time and date of the Armistice in Europe.
Over the century that followed, through the Second World War, the Korean War and Afghanistan, Canadians have faithfully gathered around memorials each November to remember the legions left dead or wounded in these conflicts. When memories were still fresh – especially in the aftermath of the Second World War, with its huge number of returning warriors – Remembrance ceremonies were undoubtedly more relevant occasions. Many Canadians would have personally known the pain and heartache of war in their lifetime.
The war in Afghanistan certainly made real the risks and consequences of war. Suddenly, there were families in our own communities with sons and husbands killed and injured overseas. These families were evidence of real loss and real pain. This was the first taste, for many Canadians, of military sacrifice in our own lifetime.
Yet somehow, the war in Afghanistan was so complex – the causes and solutions too hard to figure, the battlefields too unconventional, the enemy too hard to identify – that this counter-insurgency campaign and its veterans failed to transform Remembrance Day from an exercise of historical memory, into something most of us could instinctively feel in our hearts.
But now that transformation has occurred.
Nathan Cirillo is just one soldier, and not even a war veteran at that. Yet his shocking murder as he stood on sentry duty at the National War Memorial – the unforgettable image of him lying on the granite, directly alongside his First World War comrade inside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – has vividly linked the past with the present.
The Unknown Soldier’s remains were brought to Ottawa in May, 2000 from an unmarked Canadian grave at Cabaret-Rouge military cemetery, not far from Vimy, France. Which means the soldier in the tomb in Ottawa very likely fought and died in the famous Canadian attack on Vimy Ridge in 1917.
Nathan Cirillo’s death is a tragedy. But Cpl. Cirillo now speaks to Canadians in a way the Unknown Soldier can’t – by allowing those of us with little or no connection to war to know, if only fleetingly, what the killing of a Canadian soldier feels like; how it sucked the air from our very lungs, upon hearing the awful news.
This year the crowds at cenotaphs across the country will surely be larger. The ceremonies will be more poignant. And our understanding of loss – and the need for memory – will be more real. (Source: The Globe & Mail)
LETTER to the EDITOR
Hamilton Spectator, Wednesday November 12, 2014
Thanks to The Spectator for posting and to cartoonist Graeme MacKay for drawing the poignant picture in Tuesday’s paper. We will forever remember the sacrifice of Hamilton’s own Corporal Nathan Cirillo on that infamous day in Ottawa.
This picture will serve as a sad (but also proud) reminder for his family to always treasure. And also act as a reminder to all Canadians that we lost our innocence on that day. Remember also all our service men and woman who place themselves in harm’s way to keep us and the rest of the world a safer place to live in.
“Lest we forget,” not only on the 11th of November at the 11th hour, but every day.
David Porter, Burlington