‘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…’
It is impossible to describe the deep reverence the reading of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem conferred to the sea of people gathered around the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. It is one of those situations that can be summed up by an overused but adequate phrase: ‘you had to be there.’ The words of the poem are haunting, and the images they conjure stay alive in the hearts and minds of us all. Every single time.
I cannot not shudder as I read it (please do try to read it out loud at least once,) and I cannot deny that I find myself teary every time. Though written in 1915, time has done nothing to diminish the message.
People were gathered in the thousands at Riverside Park to honour the fallen, the veterans that are still among us, the active members of Canadian Armed Forces and the emergency services personnel. I am always amazed at how everyone feels like family for that brief time; during a mere half an hour of service, it feels like we are all descending into a space that does not pertain strictly to today but one that shines a powerful unyielding light onto many pages of history and countless years of service by countless soldiers.
Hours later at the home of the Rocky Mountain Rangers, the J.R. Vicars armoury at 1221 McGill Road, the hum of people mingling and chatting is brought to a halt by the arrival of the Kamloops Pipe Band Society. The large hall is inundated by the sounds of beautiful bagpipe and drum music.
Once again, I find myself thinking many thoughts as ‘Amazing Grace’ fills the room, starting with just one bagpipe and then joined by the whole chorus of instruments. There are so many stories entwined with it; the lament of lives lost and remembered during each ceremony. The heaviness and beauty combined are astounding and I feel dwarfed by my own innocence and the privilege of never having had to experience the pain of losing a loved one to a war (or post-war due to health-related problems, including death by suicide caused by PTSD.)
In the middle of the big reception hall there is a wreath where guests and hosts alike lay their poppies, one after another. The collection grows, and the promise McCrae’s poem obliges us to fulfill becomes more visible. There’s silent mourning in each red petal, there’s a reminder of the many people’s sacrifice and a reminder that we ‘do not break faith’.
As the newly appointed Commanding Officer of the Rocky Mountain Rangers, Lieutenant Colonel Amadeo Vecchio addresses the crowd, there’s a whole other nuance added to the collection of poppies: hope, togetherness, joy. ‘This feels like family,’ he says with a smile. He speaks warmly of the Rangers being part of the community and the need for the community to see them as such. ‘I want and hope that we can be seen for what we truly are – committed to serve and open to play an active part in the community of Kamloops,’ he says.
On the day when we honour those who served and those who are still serving, his words build a promise and an invitation. The Rangers host many community events, including a yearly Food Bank drive, many open houses and family days. Behind the doors of the armoury which many do not know about, there are people who keep McCrae’s wish alive. They train hard, in all kinds of weather, away from their families and a well-earned weekend rest.
I know, because my husband is one of them, and every single time when I pick him up on a Sunday late afternoon after a weekend-long exercise, his face and clothes muddy, there is a twinkle in his eyes that tells of the time spent training: exhaustingly good; worthwhile. The Rangers are a group of people bound to the promise to ‘not break faith’ and the willingness to stand ready. To serve (infinitive.)
On Remembrance Day, I see their smiling faces, I listen to stories – many of which cast shadows but are shared as a tribute to all left behind. The feeling of gratefulness is overwhelming.
Everyone is dressed up and looking sharp, yet nothing feels stiff in the big reception hall at the Rangers armoury. Lt. Col. Vecchio’s hope is in fact reality: this feels like family. In a small town/big-enough city like Kamloops, that is a gift that goes both ways.
That is how it felt this morning too at Riverside Park when the community formed a circle around all the groups participating in the Remembrance Day parade; the large number of people surrounded those who are ready to serve, honouring their sacrifice and knowing that should the situation call for it, they are ready. That we embrace our local reserve unit with pride is part of the promise they keep alive every day with their service.
Lest we forget.