A Canadian soldier in 1917 adds some stones to a cairn near Vimy, France marking the graves of other fallen Canadians. (National Archives Canada)

Remembrance Day: Sacrifices of war, but do Canadians know?

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We are now just days away from the important commemoration for the men and women who died in the cause of freedom in wars and conflicts.

Remembrance Day is marked every year on the 11th of November, the date when the Armistice ended the horrors of the First World War.

Milestone date

This year is especially important as it marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the war in 1918.  But it seems fewer than half of Canadians know that, or many other aspects of national and international history, and fewer will mark this historic occasion this year.

In what has in recent years become a tradition, attendees at the Remembrance ceremonies in Ottawa, place their poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of the National War Memorial   (Tom Hanson- Canadian Press)

A survey conducted by the firm Leger Marketing for Ancestry Canada shows a fading of historical knowledge and interest in Remembrance Day. The online survey of 1,524 Canadian adults was completed between October 12 and October 15, 2018,

Lesley Anderson, spokesperson for Ancestry comments: “Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, it’s such a shame to see a decline in commemorations in Canada, yet given the lack of personal connection that many Canadians have to WWI and WWII, this is perhaps understandable. Knowing about an ancestor who served and learning about the role they played and how war impacted their life can be an emotional experience that brings relevance to Remembrance commemorations.

The survey found that a majority of Canadians (56%) were unaware that this year marked the centennial of the end of the First World War.

Winston Churchill ?

Less than a quarter (22%) of Canadians knew who the Canadian Prime Minister was during that war (Sir Robert Borden) and shockingly many (8%) thought it was Sir Winston Churchill.

A damaged tank lies abandoned in the destroyed landscape in Passchendaele as an errant shell explodes in the distance (Library and Archives Canada pa-0021195)

The number of people who will mark Remembrance Day this year as well, declining to 80 per cent for 86 per cent last year.

Interest in wearing the poppy, the traditions symbol of Remembrance in Commonwealth countries, is down as well as only 59 per cent say they will purchase a poppy compared to 70 per cent in 2017. The Royal Canadian Legion distributes artificial poppies each year for a small donation which funds their many efforts to aid veterans.

Less than half will also observe the 2 minutes of silence at 11 am, which was the time when the Armistices took effect 100 years ago.

Canadian military cemetery “La Chaudiére”, Pas de Calais. In the foreground the markers of Pte Herbert Peterson, and Pte Thomas Lawless of the 49th Bn CEF whose remains were found near Avion and indentified in 2007 and 2011 respectively (Laurel Clegg- DND)

In response to other questions, almost 4 in ten (38%) said they had no idea if any relative had served in the conflict, with many also saying they were unaware of any family connection to either WW-I or WW-II and this may play a role in lack of concern for the occasion

Ancestry Canada says it will offer free access to military records in its database from Nov 8 to 11.

1992-1995 ;Canadian soldiers of UNPROFOR perform a medical evacuation in the former Yugoslavia. (Canadian Forces Photo Unit via LAC)

While Remembrance has often focused mainly on the two World Wars, it should be remembered that Canada has continued to send its men and women to fight against aggression ever since, from Korea, to Bosnia, to Afghanistan and in too often dangerous peacekeeping missions around the world, the latest being Mali.

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