War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Nov. 11

I remember when vets were old men in cigarette ashed blazers and pressed grey pants, poppied and pissed after a hard day reviving their jive down at the Legion. my father was one of them.

his was a good war. ambulance corps. first, in Haida Gwai (Queen Charlottes in those days), then Boundary Bay, one long party. my father never made it overseas. too young, too late signed up, the war ended.

but Frank, my good friend long dead. RCAF pilot. flew over Germany I’m pretty sure. never talked about it. didn’t get showered and dressed for Nov. 11, didn’t bring out the medals. kept close to home. his garden, his drawings (architectural). I tried to get him to talk about the war but he would just smile, change the subject. and because I was young, I didn’t ask why.

now I’ve met vets much younger than I. they listen to Metallica, and Rage Against the Machine in their LAVs. some can barely grow mustaches in the field. and I wonder what they’re doing today. pressing pants? or walking as far away as they can from the poppies and flags and pipes and all the fresh-cast or still-to-come remembrance…

3 Comments (Closed)


Every region of Canada has their own particular way of celebrating Nov 11. I use ‘celebrating’ for a good reason, which I will explain by the end of this comment. For me, a reservist of 23 years, it means it’s a time to go on parade in front of my community and to visit with old friends. I have a routine. It starts with my regiment and from there I (we) go off to our local legion. Talk with the old vets. We have new ones in tow, some who just got back from Afghanistan, some just getting ready to go. Off to the Seaforth’s mess and then to Billy Bishops. I’m amazed on how many new medals I see. Chatting up a (very) young and pretty medic at Bishops. She looks maybe 19 years old and she wears the Afghan Medal.

For me, it’s all about seeing old friends. Sometimes (usually) I only see them once a year. There is much hugging and drinking. The odd fight breaks out and it eventually ends in more hugging… I read in the paper that some people now refuse to wear the poppy because they believe that Nov 11 is now about celebrating war. Nothing could be further from the truth for soldiers. We celebrate our friendships, our love for one another and for the memory of our mates who didn’t make it back. Nov 11 isn’t for anybody but the people who know what it means to put on ‘green’.

Nov 12 2008 · 10:33

katherine jane

I was one of the 25,000-strong crowd at the Cenotaph in Ottawa yesterday. ‘Stood for two hours waiting for the ceremony to begin (almost made it to the front row of spectators; ‘got into the second row and pretty much saw everything…) and for an hour of marching bands, marching kilted bagpipers, marching vets, prayers, and the laying of wreaths.

The most moving part was the arrival of the WWII vets, with their medals over their hearts, and for the most part, old, frail, fragile men. It was cold. There was a wind blowing and no sun. Now, I’m clear they were all thinking, “I’ve been through far worse than this.” Many of them wiped tears from their faces when they heard the hymns sung by a children’s choir and the last post. They were thinking of their fallen comrades. (I cried too, thinking of my father, now dead, and my mother’s first fiance who was shot down over Holland.)

We were celebrating our freedom yesterday, not war. War is hell, and there was an acknowledgement of that in the padre’s and the Jewish rabbi’s comments. We were honouring the sacrifices made by so many for us to live in peace. I wore my poppy proudly, not as a symbol of war but as a symbol of the freedom that Canadians enjoy because of the sacrifices made by Canadian soldiers.

Nov 12 2008 · 19:00


it is so important we listen to the words of those who have experienced the traumas of war. There is a website worth checking out ‘Poets in Wartime’ which has lots of fascinating contributions from vets and serving soldiers. You might find inspiration/solace in its postings. We are quick to remember those who perish but quicker still in our neglect of those who survive, but wish they had perished.

Nov 17 2008 · 15:13

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Nov. 11. It was posted here on November 11, 2008.


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