By Bob Groeneveld
Rev. William Deans was the speaker at the Remembrance Day ceremony held at Langley Athletic Hall in 1937.
A brief note in the Langley Advance files from that November indicated that the service was conducted by Rev. W.R. Walkinshaw, and that Mrs. J. Powell sang two songs, Face to Face and Crossing the Bar. Mrs. Powell’s voice was reputed to have been as beautiful as the poetry of the lyrics, so the effect at that solemn occasion was likely deeply stirring. The last post was sounded by Glenn Powell and Stan Bishop, and piper James Duncan played Flowers of the Forest.
Not all Remembrance Day activities were recorded in the local community paper in those years.
Sombre Remembrance Day ceremonies must have flown in the face of the faintest breath of a pervading optimism that the Great Depression, already nearly a decade old, couldn’t possibly go on much longer.
And after all, by the time the late 1930s rolled around, the War to End All Wars was nearly two decades in the past, and despite nasty rumblings of dangerous political behaviour coming out of Europe, there could be no real understanding of just how ironic the nickname given to the First World War would soon become.
What were those people gathered in the halls and at the churches and around local cemeteries thinking about during the stirring music and dramatic speeches that captured their attention on those Remembrance Days in the late 1930s?
What were those people remembering as they stood solemnly, heads bowed, on those cold, clammy November mornings?
Many of them were probably wearing poppies, just as we do now, a custom adopted in Canada since 1920 to help us remember what we’d all rather forget, but never should.
Were they thinking the same kinds of thoughts that we think about during the moment of silence at 11 o’clock each November 11 that marks the same end to the same war?
Except, of course, we’ve added three more wars to our memorial services since then – the Second World War which was looming barely over their horizon, plus the Korean War (with far too few Remembrance Days in between), and just to prove that we still never really got it, the War in Afghanistan.
That last entry on our list of remembrances (so far) happened despite my generation having been so incredibly fortunate as to have avoided direct contact with wars ourselves. Or maybe “despite” is not the right word, perhaps it should be “because.”
Maybe the right question isn’t about what they were remembering on Remembrance Day all those years ago.
Maybe we should ask what they were thinking the day after Remembrance Day. And the day after that. And the day after that.
Maybe one day a year is simply not enough for remembering what happens when we let the world go crazy.
Maybe one day of remembering isn’t enough to keep soulless madmen from stealing the souls of our nations… and the lives of our children.