Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day in Toronto.

As I do each year, I wanted to post something for Remembrance Day. There are many Remembrance Day events in and around Toronto, including official ceremonies sponsored by the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario; the University of Toronto also offers its own annual Service of Remembrance, recalling in a special way the alumni, students, faculty, and staff of the University who gave their lives in the two World Wars (628 in World War I, 557 in World War II). This year, U of T held its Service of Remembrance on Friday morning; I was there, and this post presents some photos from the event.

A crowd gathers prior to the start of the service.

This shot is meant to give a panoramic view of the proceedings, with the service being run from the platform in the archway of Soldiers' Tower at left, with various dignitaries and attendees at right.

Members of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Ontario stand at the ready with wreaths to be laid in front of the University's war memorial later in the service.

Some who had roles in the service, including Brigadier-General (ret.) H. E. Brown (second from right), who commanded a Canadian Army unit during the Second World War, was wounded under fire in Italy, and was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Having recently celebrated his 100th birthday, General Brown remains spry enough to stand throughout the forty-minute service and laid a wreath at the memorial in the name of his fellow veterans.

Presiding over the service was another World War II veteran, Anglican priest and retired Canadian Army major Canon W. Ebert Hobbs.

A U of T undergraduate reads the poem "In Flanders Fields," the first line of which provided the inspiration for the remembrance poppies which many wear in the weeks preceding Remembrance Day in British Commonwealth countries. Widely associated with Remembrance Day, "In Flanders Fields" also has a unique local connection: its author, John McCrae, was an Ontario native and a U of T alumnus.

U of T President David Naylor (center) and Governing Council Chair Richard Nunn prepare to lay a wreath in front of the memorial in the name of the University. Many other wreaths were laid in the name of other groups associated with U of T, including alumni and faculty, student fraternities and clubs, and members of the constituent colleges of the University.

The "Last Post," which holds a place in the Commonwealth similar to the place that "Taps" holds in the United States, is played in honor of the dead.

Salutes during the "Last Post."

The crowd stands in reflective silence during the "Last Post."

Wreaths laid before the University of Toronto War Memorial.

Wreaths laid by some of U of T's undergraduate fraternities.

My favorite wreath, given by the U of T History Students' Association.

The opening lines of "In Flanders Fields," inscribed within the war memorial.

The poem's author, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, stares from a portrait in the Soldiers' Tower Memorial Room, which houses a collection of war memorabilia associated with the University.

This stained glass window in the Soldiers' Tower Memorial Room was dedicated in November of 1995. The Soldiers' Tower webpage offers an explanation of the window's imagery: "The Victory Torch in the centre stands for the attainment of peace and of hope. The maple leaf, rising above, represents the emergence of Canada as a nation devoted to freedom, understanding and world peace. The poppies at the foot of the crosses invoke remembrance."

These ghostly faces are part of another stained glass window in Soldiers' Tower, this one recalling Canadian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April of 1917.

A bit difficult to read in this photo - but worth enlarging - one of the main inscriptions of the U of T War Memorial: "To the glorious memory of members of this University who fell in the Great War, 1914-1918. Take these men for your ensamples: like them, remember that prosperity can be only for the free, that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it."

Another inscription, this one coming from a later addition to the War Memorial including the names of members of the University of Toronto who were killed during the Second World War. "Their story is not graven only in stone over their native earth, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men's lives."

And here is one last inscription - to me, the most fascinating and enigmatic of the group. The Greek phrase at the top, Apothanon eti lalei, is from Hebrews 11:4: "Though dead, he still speaks." The English lines that follow - "And so they passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for them on the other side" - are adapted from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and a quick Internet search suggests that they saw fairly wide use in twentieth-century war memorials. The closing phrase, Iustorum animae in manu Dei, is taken from Wisdom 3:1: "The souls of the just [are] in the hands of God." An appropriate prayer for Remembrance Day, I think, and a fitting way to end this post. AMDG.


At 11/12/2012 9:39 AM, Blogger Lynda said...

Thank you for sharing these photos. It is heartwarming to know that there are so many who pay tribute to those who fought that we might enjoy the freedom we have today.

At 11/12/2012 1:35 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

You're welcome, Lynda - I'm glad you appreciated the photos!

At 11/25/2012 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Koczera,

Do you believe that World War 1, in which millions of Christians fighting for countries led by Christian monarchs slaughtered each other for little ultimate gain was a just war, "a bellum iustum" to use Thomas of Aquinas' term?

Pope Benedict XV, horrified by the slaughter, dreamed desperately of ending it.

If you don't think it was a just war, do you think that it is in keeping with Christ's teachings for Christian clergymen to commemorate the dead without condemning those who responsible for their deaths, who also, incidentally, kick-started the Bolshevik, post-Ottoman, and Hitlerian genocides?

I know that when I go to such commemorations, which I experience as very dishonest, I find myself fighting a deep-seated urge to distribute copies of Mark Twain's "War Prayer" to members of the congregation.


At 11/26/2012 1:58 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


I don't think that commemorating the dead requires us also to make a statement on the morality of the conflict in which they died. Prayer for the dead is a basic Christian imperative, and even soldiers who die in unjust conflicts deserve to be remembered. Indeed - as I think you pointed out yourself in an earlier post - most soldiers who fought in the World Wars served involuntarily and were as much victims of war as the many civilians who lost their lives.

I will admit that many remembrance ceremonies and war memorials cultivate a nationalistic spirit that may tend to presume that wars fought on behalf of the nation are ipso facto just wars. That gets at a much more complicated issue, which I'd rather not get into at the moment as my thoughts on point are too complex to express adequately in a brief comment.


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