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Speaking Out: Why we wear the poppy

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • November 4, 2020

The immortal poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, has brought countless reflections on the past to vividly remember and connect with brave soldiers who fought virtuously for freedom in the major conflicts of the past century.

With McCrae’s description of the melancholic surroundings of Flanders, the hopes and dreams of soldiers, the finality of their death and their legacies covered with red poppies, we feel humbled to see the cycle of life rendered so realistically before our eyes. 

Although McCrae paints a palpable picture of the sufferings and glories of a soldier, it is relatively easy with our modern advantages and privileges to trivialize Remembrance Day and boil it down to wearing the red poppy and echoing the phrase, “I remember.”

However, to truly appreciate the poppy’s value or to sincerely take part in the act of remembering brave soldiers and veterans, we must honestly inquire: What are we remembering?

We remember those men and women who left families, jobs, comforts and promising futures to travel to distant lands to fight for values under threat.

We remember a soldier’s great physical sacrifice of spending months in foul trenches, remaining malnourished, exposed to harsh and damaging climate conditions, withstanding disease and constantly confronting the frightening face of mortality. 

We remember the gruesome emotional terrain upon which the soldiers trekked. Young men became comrades and relished in each other’s company while imagining a time when the war would be over and they could return home — only to have their shared future dreams and friendship separated by a sudden death out on the unforgiving battlefield. Friends were torn from friends, causing emotional and mental scarring that lasted far past the days of the war. 

We remember the individual and heroic acts of bravery, those recorded and those unknown to the pages of history.

Canadian soldiers sacrificed much to preserve liberties and individual rights; each soldier’s individual oblation ensured collective future stability, not just of Canada, but also for nations around the world. 

For instance, at Vimy Ridge in France in 1917, arguably the pivotal moment in the development of a nation forging its identity, Canadians overcame a military stalemate to push through the enemy line, a victory that was ultimately key to bringing the war to an end. At Vimy now stands two large memorial towers inscribed with the names of 11,000 Canadian soldiers, commemorating the legacy of their bravery and dedication to the pursuit of preserving peace.  

John 15:13 states: “Greater love no one has than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Canadian soldiers showed this great love as they laid down their lives for a glorious and propitious future for their neighbours, friends and family. They made the greatest sacrifice they could: they gave their lives.

On Nov. 11, we celebrate the 102nd anniversary of the end of the First World War, marked by Remembrance Day. Canadians will don poppies and echo the phrase, “I remember.” However simple this phrase may seem, there lies a great depth of history and meaning: the ultimate sacrifice of the brave and courageous for the freedoms and privileges we enjoy to this day.

John McCrae writes so eloquently in his poetry, “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.” As Canadians, as descendants of those who fought valiantly, let us proudly hold high the torch of great sacrifice and freedom.

(Vecchiato, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.)

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