Lest We Forget

Winnipeg cenotaph, 1940

As Remembrance Day 2023 approaches, there is war in Israel-Palestine. There is war in Ukraine-Russia. The United Nations discusses the ongoing volatile situations in the world. The prime minister of Israel says, “This is a time for war.”

The words echo different times.

The Winnipeg cenotaph sits at the corner of Memorial Boulevard and York Avenue in Winnipeg, just down the street from the Manitoba Legislature. This 1940 photo from the Scrapbook of Corporal [John] Wallace (City of Winnipeg Archives, Winnipeg in Focus collection), captures it in the early days of the Second World War.  At the time, Wallace, like many of the other men who volunteered, may not yet have known where his service would take him.

About a year after Wallace’s photo of the cenotaph was taken, Manitoba soldiers with the Winnipeg Grenadiers spend Nov. 11, 1941 on a ship to overseas service in Hong Kong. Nearly 2,000 Canadians are sent to help guard the British colony. Soon Japan attacks and they become the first Canadians to see active fighting in the war. By Christmas, they are forced to surrender, and survivors become prisoners of war, facing starvation and abuse as their families at home wonder about their fate.

Among them is Earl Dickie, one of the Dickies From Gunton: Canadian Brothers in Two World Wars.

Remembrance Day
November 11  was first recognized as Armistice Day, a day to commemorate the end of the Great War with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918. Starting in 1931, Canada recognized it as Remembrance Day.

Ten years after the Great War, a great crowd gathers for the unveiling of this new Winnipeg cenotaph. On Nov. 11, 1928, thousands of people crowd Memorial Boulevard in Winnipeg to commemorate Armistice Day here. People remember those who gave their lives for King and Country. Every permanent and non-permanent military unit is represented, notes the Winnipeg Tribune. There are many wreaths and flowers. The two minutes of silence weigh heavily, even after a decade of peace.

Earl was in the Fort Garry Horse militia at the time and likely attended this event. And then, the world is at war again. Earl signs up with the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

On Nov. 12, 1939, the cenotaph photo on the front page of the Winnipeg Tribune shows a veteran of the Great War and a young solder of the current war standing before it on Remembrance Day. “[To you from failing hands] we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high,” they quote from the famous poem, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.

On both solemn occasions- in peace and in war, as Winnipeggers gathered at the cenotaph, skies are grey, crowds are great, the military is marching and people remember.

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, “Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a moment of Remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic interruptions of gatherings, in 2022, CBC reports thousands paid tribute at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, the largest of about a dozen gatherings in Winnipeg.

How will you remember this year?