Odd Thoughts: Horrifying price needs to be remembered

Columnist Bob Groeneveld looks at the first Remembrance Day in Langley.

The armistice ending the First World War will have been signed exactly 100 years ago at 2:00 o’clock in the morning this Saturday, Nov. 11.

We won’t actually mark the occasion as Remembrance Day until nine hours later, at 11 a.m. our time, because of the time difference between Langley and the Campiegne Forest in France where the signatories gathered in a rail car to end the devastating – and unfortunately named – “War to End All Wars.”

The price that Langley and other small towns across Canada paid to bring about that armistice was horrifying.

One hundred years ago, Langley had fewer than 4,000 residents. About 400 men enlisted to serve overseas.

About 40 died there: “One in 10 of those who enlisted,” Langley historian Warren Sommer brought it into perspective for me when I spoke with him last week. “And many of those who enlisted never saw active service.”

Gather any 100 Langley residents in a hall in 1914, and by the end of 1918, one of them would be buried in a European graveyard – or become part of the mud in the bottom of a shell crater.

Langley wasn’t out of the ordinary. Indeed, Langley was almost exactly average.

There were a few more than seven million people in Canada in 1914. The 619,000 who enlisted for armed service constituted just about 10 per cent of the population, and one in 10 of those who enlisted – 61,000 – were killed.

“Everybody in Langley would have known somebody who had lost their lives,” Sommer said. “If they weren’t a relative, then they would have been a neighbour.”

That would have applied to communities across the country.

“On top of that,” Sommer pointed out, “the civilian population in the First World War was heavily involved in the war effort, whether it was sewing socks for soldiers or sending packages overseas for the men in the trenches, or putting on concerts to raise funds to assist the families of men overseas. It was something that happened to everyone in the community every day throughout those years.”

“It’s often said that if we don’t study history, we’re doomed to repeat it,” Sommer emphasized the need to remember. “And goodness knows, we’ve had enough conflict and loss of life as a result of miscalculation, misunderstanding, prejudice, and hate. We don’t need to repeat it.”

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