One Remembrance Day, I went to the ceremonies in Halifax, NS. The main cenotaph, in The Grand Parade downtown. It is a huge place, nearly a half a city block long and wide. A towering flag-mast is near one end, as befits a sea-faring city.
The city bus, which would normally be nearly empty during a mid-morning holiday run, was nearly full. And part way along, a grouping of twenty uniformed military personnel got on. All Navy. Spit-and-polish. I noted their shoes. I approved.
I arrived nearly an hour before 11:00 o’clock, but there were already hundreds present. The Grand Parade was awash with people, so much so that they were asked to keep on the grass, so the parade itself could manoeuver when it arrived. There was a tent where actual World War Two veterans sat. It was chill and cloudy, but no rain nor snow arrived.
Pipes and drums and a military band made themselves known in the distance. A flag carrying, colour-party of veterans marched in, followed by ranks of modern military and red-uniformed RCMP. Followed by veterans and cadets and children and organizations. In, and around, and back they marched, to finally face the cenotaph itself. Crisp orders. Boots solid on the stones. Music. Hundreds of spectators.
The ceremony follows a set routine, of course. Much is squeezed into the eleven minutes around the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. A too-brief portion of God Save The Queen. Oh Canada. The Last Post. Booming artillery from high up Citadel Hill. A military helicopter clattering over us. The minute of silence. The chaplains with their words. And God’s.
There were two new (new to me, at any rate) events, and one occurrence that was impressive indeed.
Three flags – one of Canada and two smaller military – were lowered to half-staff during the ceremony. It was quite a distance to descend, and their wires screeched.
Six white doves were released. I doubt they were so-trained, but they flew into the distance and then came right back over the crowd before leaving.
And, the last note of the trumpet ended at the exact second the steeple bells began to chime its eleven times.
There is really no time to cheer during this sombre ceremony, but sometimes it is tempting so to do.
For those who think our North American culture has progressed over the last fifty years, I offer this conversation I heard on a city bus mere hours ago.
This is between two gentlemen sliding out of their sixth decade. One was even wearing the garb, and affecting the pony-tailed hair, of the actual Sixties of the last century. The other had a sports coat and neat pants, and was carrying a number of books.
Sports Coat (to bus driver): Do you go past the New Library?
Bus Driver: No, but I go past the end of the street. A ten minute walk.
SC: OK – I can do that.
Pony Tail: You taking books back?
SC: Yup. My Sunday chore. I’ll get others.
PT: There’s a closer library – right along here.
SC: Jeez – I can’t go there.
SC: Loud as hell.
SC: The kids. They run the place.
PT: You mean after school?
SC: All the time I’m ever in there.
PT: They can be loud.
SC: They’re savages taking over.
PT: They’re just young.
SC: In my day, kids showed some respect.
PT: It’s a small library. Things sound louder.
SC: The librarian would shut us down.
PT: It isn’t that bad.
SC: She’d tell us to shut up, and that would be it.
He never – it is true – used the phrase: To Hell in a Handcart.