Friday, November 11, 2005

the Eleventh Hour

The cherry tree in Victory Square gives up another yellowy leaf fluttering softly to the damp ground.
The Cenotaph. The eleventh month, the eleventh day, the eleventh hour.
Nearly a century after the signing of that first armistice in November, 1918, we are gathered on this cool autumn morning to remember the darkest hours. The large crowd is not restless, there is too much respect in the chill air to be restless. Only soldiers’ ghosts have the right to be restless this poignant hour. Looking over shoulders toward the marble monument, flags bright against the morning dull of overcoats and scarves, the cherry tree steals attention. Burnt orange and yellow and faded green leaves now sparse on its dark wet branches. The Vancouver Bach Youth Choir sings beautifully beneath it, an ethereal sound, angelic voices coaxing the leaves to let go, asking our hearts to remember.
The 15th Field Artillery Regiment begins the 21 gun salute with a dull thump in the thick misty air, startling nervous pigeons to fly in circling squadrons. Marching cadets and full dress troops arrive in staccato rhythm, heels upon pavement, commanded to halt by a disjointed voice. Military uniforms are especially crisp for this day and polished boots are perfect.
People singing Oh Canada with softness and pride, knowing we are the best. A patient grey sky of swirling cloud holds back its rain. A large plane with full flaps glides as slowly as possible overhead. Then four Harvards in the 'missing man formation' following in a drone of sound.
Another cannon thump. Gulls wheeling, watchful of food. Curious crows disappear into the dark evergreens. A poem written by a high school student is read with quavering emotion. Children’s voices echo. Murmurs. Here and there a solemn glistening tear on a worn face.
Many younger families clustered in an area they would never go to normally. A car alarm squawks irreverence, perhaps a comment to an almost forgotten generation. Bagpipes wailing, reproachful of modern interruptions. A phalanx of antique planes now circling with buzzing engines.
The earth smell is not unpleasant. Nor the odor of damp wool. Pipe smoke floats through the assembly. Coughs from some who shouldn’t be here remembering others who couldn’t be here.
An elder Sergeant’s voice giving directions to the parade troops, losing its strength with a crackle. The Chaplain speaks a prayer, I catch words, ‘in the journey through life’, and give a silent thanks that my passage has been without the fright of war, without the fear of death, without the tragic loss of dear ones.
My mind drifts to Belgium, a few years ago, of feeling a duty to visit Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Canadian World War II Memorial, even though I had no name to search carved on that monument. Standing amid the wheat fields in a summer breeze where a sprinkling of red poppies still grow, giving thanks that I was allowed to roam at will in a free Europe. There’ll be Bluebirds over, the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow, you just wait and see, Vera Lynn promised, and there were.

the parade's gone by ...

click to enlarge
And in my free Canada, the laying of wreaths begins, dignitaries, officials and crippled old military men weighted down by their chests of medals, saluting a memory, a face, a daring-do friend, perhaps a chipper smile from long ago. Their bodies are crisp and straight for the salute, if only for a moment before they hobble back to their place in the hushed crowd. A man’s valor can never be extinguished.
Another thud from the artillery. War is different now. Can individual bravery and courage exist today? The choir sings, Abide With Me, and the beauty of the music and words hang in the mist.
The cherry tree sheds another leaf, then another. Dropping silently to the moist brown earth, as many soldiers did in a strange land. A song I once wrote drifts into mind -
Oh that man there might have been your uncle,
or a brother who was very dear,
or a father, never having seen his little son.
Now he’s lying softly in the grasses,
and he keeps on looking at the sky,
and he’s slowly giving up his dreams, one by one ...

Again the thump of artillery. Two minutes of silence. A frail woman’s voice in prayer. Yet not disturbing to those in reverie, they have liberty because of these fallen GrandDads. Lest we forget, lest we forget, at this moment, Kiplings greatest lines.
The clusters of dress parade troops begin to move off. Straight-backed young cadets in a rhythmic shuffle, perhaps understanding for the first time what glory is. And crumpled old veterans, walking as best they can. Able to show a resolve in their eyes to all who would see it. Leading the way even at this long time from the event of their courage. Perhaps able to incite the young men gazing at them to be the very best they can be. And I hoping that they are able to sense and receive my thanks as they pass. And not sure, so I say it aloud. Thanks.
The eleventh month, the eleventh day, the eleventh hour.
The cherry tree gives away another yellow leaf fluttering down, though not to die in vain, but to give life to that tree for a future world.
Remembrance day, any time, any year.

© RC Westerholm
Reprinted from

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:39 am

    damn nice piece of writing!


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