Tomorrow, Nov. 11, is Remembrance Day in Canada. For as long as I can remember I have stood at a cenotaph on this day, joined with fellow Canadians in remembrance and sorrow, pride and humility.
This year, like last, because of the pandemic, the Royal Canadian Legion has asked me to stay home and watch on a screen. What guns and bombs and hatred couldn’t do, a virus has accomplished. One of the nation’s most deeply held traditions is “cancelled.”
Whether as a result of the pandemic or the acknowledgement of important war anniversaries, over the past twenty months I have read a lot of war novels. They have focused on “the home front.”
In “The Last Bookshop in London,” I’ve read about a woman’s life during the Blitz in London. “The Paris Library,” is an account of a woman’s life in occupied Paris. Kirsten Hannah’s “The Nightingale” took me through the terror of occupied France. I’ve read about music giving hope to the population in “La’s Orchestra Saves the World,” and “The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir.” I’ve read about the Ack-Ack girls in “Light Over London,” and fifth column threats in “The Spies of Shilling Lane.” I re-read “Barometer Rising,” and experienced again the magnitude of the Halifax explosion of 1917.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of these books and recommend them without reserve.
When I look at the above list of novels I note a shortage of Canadian content. This year, since I cannot stand alongside our veterans, I’ve committed to reading more about Canada’s experience of war. On my to-be-read list is Marjorie, Her War Years, Tim Cook’s The Fight for History, and his two volume work, The Necessary War. A search of the internet yielded this title, War on the Home Front, the Farm Diaries of Daniel MacMillan. As my grandparents and great uncles continued to farm during WWI, I look forward to reading about Daniel MacMillan.
This year, my tribute to veterans will include an effort to better understand their lives and their sacrifice. Yet no amount of reading is going to fill me with the kind of fear men and nations and families lived during world conflicts.
You see, I know that our side won. So while I empathize with a shopkeeper losing her store to the Blitz I know that, in the end, everything will be all right. I have that reassurance, our veterans did not.
In our time the world is mobilizing to fight climate change. There is real fear in the streets as people, especially youth, contemplate rising sea levels, the disappearance of island nations, vanishing ice caps, food shortages, and dried up lakes. The battle for the planet lacks the immediacy of fighter squadrons and toiling troops, but the outcome could not be more dire. This time we don’t have the reassurance that “our” side will prevail. Perhaps that fact gives us a taste of life in a time of war.