Remembrance and commemoration

News Article / November 12, 2014 / Project number: RCAF-20141112-01

By Ruthanne Urquhart

Remembering. Commemorating. The same, but not.

Remembering is passive. We remember without even trying. It is a first-person activity. We remember our own past; we cannot remember a past we did not live.

Commemorating, however, is a conscious, planned act of remembrance. Through words, written or spoken, through images, monuments or parades, we commemorate. Commemorating something is a pledge to remember it.

The 2014 Battle of Britain Ceremony that took place in Ottawa, Ontario, was just such a pledge. Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) members and veterans, their families and friends, and members of the public, gathered at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum to commemorate the Allied air and ground crews that triumphed in that never-ending four-month battle in 1940.

Remembrance Day, for our veterans, is also about remembering. They remember their mates. Their fears and their courage. They remember the impossible goodbyes and the joyous hellos and the lifetimes in between.

What we commemorate once or twice a year is, for them, daily remembrance.  

An overheard laugh on a bus takes them back to a card game at an airfield in England, to that big blond fellow who went down over Derbyshire. The photograph of the Dutch countryside that they see in a magazine has no charming towns and fields of tulips, only smoking rubble and pitted earth.

For most of us, Remembrance Day is a time for commemoration. A time to celebrate the victories, to honour the Fallen, and most especially, to thank our veterans.

These actions are key to commemoration.

Battle of Britain Ceremony Master of Ceremonies:

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us today for this Battle of Britain parade where we celebrate victory, commemorate the sacrifices of all airmen and airwomen, and gather in the spirit of reconciliation.”

Celebrate victory

When victory is ours, this is the most important aspect of commemoration.

If victory is ours and we do not celebrate, we diminish the price paid for that victory. Celebrating victory is our way of demonstrating gratitude to the Allied forces who gave us that victory, and pride in their accomplishments. That we live free in a world of our choosing is due in no small part to their actions and courage and sacrifices – ultimately, their victory.

Commemorate the sacrifices of all airmen and airwomen

One of the elements of the Battle of Britain that captured imagination at the time was the knowledge that young pilots, aircrew and ground crew of British descent or affiliation made their way from all points of the globe to gather in England and wage war on her behalf.

Throughout the 1930s, young Germans who had settled around the world, or whose parents and even grandparents had migrated to distant nations, returned to Germany with renewed hope of a recovered, strong homeland.

These young people were not so different. They were established where they were. Some who answered the call may have been descendants of British citizens who were driven from their homeland by persecution or shipped away as criminals. Some had fled their German homeland as conscientious objectors to the First World War or as survivors of that war with no hope of survival in the wasteland that was Europe.

They returned to very different nations. To England, the beleaguered. To Germany, the aggressor. But each answered the call his or her homeland issued.

Gather in the spirit of reconciliation

If we cannot reconcile with former adversaries and pledge to keep the peace, then the sacrifices made by the brave young men and women of both sides are meaningless.

Neither Allied nor German participants in the Battle of Britain contributed with the idea of a short-term future. All Battle of Britain combatants fought for an end to the Battle that would be decisive, that would pave the way both for an end to the Second World War and for a peaceful future.

Today, the U.K., Canada, Germany and many other nations on both sides of the Second World War stand together on the most important global issues which affect us all.

This like-mindedness is the spirit and the fact of reconciliation.

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