Wearing a poppy in the days before Remembrance Day to remember those who have given their lives and limbs for our country is a widespread practice in Canada and throughout the Commonwealth. Are as many people wearing a poppy now as before?
The poppy became a symbol of sacrifice for our nation because of its association with the world-famous poem, In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, in 1915. All school children of my generation were required to memorize the poem. Do our children, and those new to our country, know the words of what is probably Canada’s most important national poem? If not, they should. Who can forget the stirring conclusion: “We are the dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved… To you from failing hands we throw The Torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.”
The opening English words of our national anthem are: “O Canada, our home and native land, True patriot love in all our sons command… ” The reference to “our sons” was inserted in 1913, just prior to World War One, as an amendment to the original 1908 words which were “in all of us” command.
There is a campaign now under way to Restore Our Anthem to the original words. Sally Goddard, the mother of Captain Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier ever killed in combat, has joined the campaign to amend the anthem. Captain Goddard died in Panjwaye District, Kandahar, Afghanistan on May 17, 2006, at 26 years of age. Two other female soldiers from Canada also died in combat in Afghanistan: Trooper Karine Blais in 2009, and Master Corporal Kristal Giesebrecht in 2010.
I remember the press coverage of Captain Goddard a few short weeks before her death. How proud I was of her. The story and pictures showed a strong, intelligent, idealistic, and highly energetic leader who loved her job and her troops. Sitting beside her LAV OPV in her fatigues and boots, she epitomized the best of the Canadian army; a wonderful role model for all soldiers and particularly for women pursuing an alternative career in the military. Her presence was a shining contrast to the fate of women in Afghanistan.
Sally Goddard wants to amend the anthem to “celebrate the role that all Canadians play in the modern era… regardless of gender.” Captain Goddard was not “a son.” Trooper Blais was not “a son.” Nor was Master Corporal Giesebrecht. Sally Goddard is not “a son.” I am not “a son.” More than half of the Canadian population are not, and, short of a gender change, can never be “sons.” Every time I sing the anthem, it jars.
On what principle does the federal government, and those who support them on this point, refuse this simple amendment to our national anthem? Which set of words reflects contemporary reality? If you want to invoke “true patriot love” in “all of us,” join Sally Goddard’s campaign and urge your friends to do so the same.