In August of 1915, a group of Russian soldiers – once strong at 900 and dropping fast – held tight to Osowiec Fortress in modern Poland. It was a critical defensive stronghold against the Germans, who bombarded the fortress for six days that summer. The Germans were 7,000 strong outside the walls of the fortress, somehow repelled time and time again by hopelessly outnumbered foes.
The Germans brought out chlorine and bromide gas. They knew the Russians were poorly equipped. They marched in, expecting no resistance.
With what was left of their bodies, some fueled by raw hatred, others with devotion to their motherland, they rose. The Germans’ confidence shattered at the sight of the impossible. Though only 60 to 100 Russians remained, the terrified Germans were again driven back by this attack of the dead men, trampling each other and catching themselves in their own traps. A few Russians managed to still evacuate, demolishing the fortress a few weeks later.
Men and women who saw and even experienced moments of valor and unspeakable, at times senseless bloodshed like this walk among us, many of them only in spirit now, whether having passed away on the battlefield or surviving to a life beyond the horrors of war that still cling to us.
On November 11, we remember the brave men and women who died for the good of the nation. They put their lives, their bodies, their sanity on the line for a variety of reasons, chief of which being a service to their country.
Though relationships are tenuous right now between Canada and its closest neighbour America, we’ve fought for each other time and again against threats far bigger than both our nations combined. Having lived in both nations, I’ve seen a parallel beyond our borders. Both countries hold military service in high regard and have shown utmost reverence to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And rightly so.
Some proclaimed their patriotism with their whole chest as they joined the service. Many were drafted. All faced fear. Bloodshed. Panic. The threat of death at any moment. Some lost friends, brothers and sisters, children to the war.
For those that have fallen, we fall silent, if only for a while, to remember the stories that live on through us – stories of who they were off the battlefield, tales of bravery, camaraderie and loss that only the living hell of war can create.
We mourn the lives that could have been, yet we celebrate the lives that were. This year is, naturally, different, but I’d like to encourage you to find your own way to remember the ones who died battling those who would see Canada fall.
No matter your political differences, your disputes with your neighbours, your feelings on religion, the pandemic, the media, whatever it is that continues to divide us, silence it, if only for a little while.
On Remembrance Day, let’s set it all aside and unite – apart – and let the memories come. Mourn, celebrate, pray – whatever it is that speaks to you as you observe and pay your respects, see that it is done. Though we cannot seek to repay the ultimate sacrifice so many have given, we can continue to keep this hallowed tradition alive.
May we never forget.
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