Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Canada's War of Independence

At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month 90 years ago today, World War One came to a shuddering end with the signing of the Armistice to end the four and one half years of unimaginable human tragedy and triumph.

The soldier’s who volunteered to fight for King and Country on the battlefields of France and Belgium forged a bond that would forever mark their sense of self as Canadians.

In his excellent book ‘Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918, Volume Two’, author Tim Cook writes “The Great War was Canada's war of independence. The Canadian forces' battlefield success pushed the nation towards full autonomy and international recognition. In 1919, Canada signed the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war, and that signature, separate from Great Britain's, revealed that something had changed in the relationship between the two countries.

Canada also joined the newly created League of Nations as a member state in its own right, although most of the prime ministers of the 1920s and 1930s did their best to avoid making any commitment that might again drag Canadians overseas from their isolated "fireproof house, far from the sources of conflagration," as one senator famously described it in the 1920s.”

Veteran, and later historian, G. R. Stevens recounted that during the war, "Canadians had become deeply conscious of a national identity and of their own superb performance in the field; they no longer felt it necessary to adopt without question usages, manners and behaviour simply because they were British. They were a branch diverging from the parent stem and the relationship of Mother Country and offspring never would be quite the same again."

“Most Canadians had come from somewhere else: losers and castoffs, the displaced and unwanted, the prosecuted and those seeking a better life had all come to carve a new life out of the vast Dominion's geography. Until the early years of the 20th century, those who lived in central Canada might never visit the east or west coast, and certainly the rural parts of the country spawned men and women less likely to travel beyond the closest towns or cities.

The war changed that. Canadians from across the country were pulled from homes and hearths and sent overseas in the largest diaspora of Canadians up to that point in the Dominion's history. Close to 7% of the country's total population left Canada during the war years, which included an astonishing 20% of the total male population between the ages of 18 and 45. And when they arrived in the camps, and later in the fighting formations of the Canadian Corps or other units, they met men who hailed from across the country.

English Anglo-Saxon Protestants served next to Frenchspeaking Catholics; east-coast fishermen rubbed shoulders with big-city Toronto factory workers; Natives, blacks and Japanese fought side-by-side with men who might never have seen them in Canada, let alone talked to them.

This is not to suggest that the Canadian Corps was one big, happy family that experienced no friction or fights. But the country did come together in its corps, taking great pride in the significant victories on the Western Front, which created a new pantheon of national heroes. The corps' success in the war also created a new sense that Canadians had done something important together, that indeed something "Canadian" existed beyond the political federation of provinces and localities.”

On this day it is imperative to remember those who sacrificed, from Passchendaele to Dieppe; From Korea to Kandahar; on this day we remember those who served and still serve this great country of ours in the name of freedom

1 comment:

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure said...

Congratulations on your independence, and a big thank you to the Canadian veterans, from one of your southern cousins.