In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row . . .”
Each November, Canadians are reminded of the immortal verses of John McCrae’s famous poem as we don the flower in an act of remembrance.
On Oct. 31st, the last Friday of October, the Lacombe Legion kicked off this year’s Poppy Campaign at Lacombe City Hall by presenting the first poppy of the season to Mayor Steve Christie, who accepted it on behalf of the City of Lacombe.
Legion President Susan Churchill said the poppy is an important symbol of a crucial tradition.
“It is very important, the act of remembrance,” said Churchill. “It is our goal that no veteran is ever forgotten.”
Churchill said it is easier for her to make a connection to the reality of war because her grandfather fought in the First World War.
Many people from her generation had similar experiences that made it easier for them to recognize the importance of remembering.
However, younger generations today don’t have the same experience and it’s harder for them to make that connection. Churchill said even her own children, now adults in their 20s, didn’t grow up hearing the stories of soldiers who fought for our freedom.
That is what makes Remembrance Day and the Poppy Campaign so important.
“As time goes on, it’s harder for the younger generations to realize what our freedom has cost,” said Churchill. “It’s a way of reminding the youth what their freedom has cost our country.”
Lacombe Legion Sergeant-At-Arms John Mellon said it is also difficult to get anyone, particularly young people, to understand the brutality and what soldiers had to go through while fighting for Canada’s freedom.
He said the nature of war is such that even soldiers don’t want to talk about it.
“It’s hard to really explain from a soldier’s part of view because anyone who was over in active service will not tell you about the bad things that happened,” said Mellon.
For example, nobody wants to talk about the bomb that exploded next to them and killed their friends.
Mellon also had family in the military. His father served in the First World War too, but had no desire to tell his son the things he had seen until Mellon too had joined the military.
“I tried to get him to talk a little bit about what had happened and he wouldn’t say a word,” said Mellon. “He’d clam up. Until I came home in uniform, then he started to open up a little bit.”
War is incredibly hard on soldiers, even after they return home.
Mellon said it is good that soldiers are starting to get help when they return to the “real world” after being deployed. For instance, people are starting to recognize that things like post traumatic stress disorder are serious problems that need to be dealt with, but more still needs to be done, he said.
Churchill agreed. She said that Canadians need to do a better job of welcoming returning soldiers, whether they agree with why they went to war or not.
“We need to do a better job of recognizing the soldiers that are coming home,” said Churchill.
Mellon also mentioned that war is changing. It is no longer the case that soldiers know where their enemies are, something that was brought into sharp relief with the attacks in Ottawa and Montreal last month.
“I think one of the things those two incidents proved to us (was that) we are not immune,” said Mellon. “Our war is starting to come right here.”
Lacombe’s Legion, and branches of the Royal Canadian Legion throughout the country, help to remind people of the significance and importance of remembering through programs like the Poppy Campaign.
Churchill said that the Poppy Campaign was first introduced in 1922 as a way of allowing disabled veterans to work. Today, it has become more of a tradition to remember and support all veterans.
All of the monies collected in the Poppy Campaign stay local and are given to causes that can benefit veterans. Churchill said that the Lacombe Legion has donated to such causes as the Lacombe Hospital and Lacombe Lodge, for example.
In addition to the Poppy Campaign, the Lacombe Legion serves its purpose of remembering with a number of Remembrance Day services in the area during early November.
By the end of this week, the Legion will have had a presence at 11 schools in the Lacombe area as well as hosted ceremonies at the Lacombe and Royal Oak Lodges. Of course, the Lacombe Legion will also play a role in the upcoming service at the Lacombe Memorial Centre on Nov. 11th.
On Nov. 11th, the Legion will begin its Remembrance Day observance with a community breakfast at the Lacombe Legion starting at 7:30 a.m.
At 8 a.m. there will be laying of wreaths at the cenotaph in Lest We Forget Park. At 10:30 a.m. Legion members will form up for the march into the LMC for the Lacombe Remembrance Day Service set to begin at 10:45 a.m.
After the service, there will be a community luncheon at the Legion and at 5:30 p.m. a community potluck supper.