When the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month finally reached the west coast this morning, Marine Drive was closed and a huge crowd of folk was assembled in front of the arch in Memorial Park. It is located across the street from the West Vancouver Memorial Library which opened on November 11th, 1950, as a living war memorial to promote literacy and equal access to education for all. The annual Remembrance Day ceremony is organized by the local branch of the Canadian Legion, but it is fitting that Jenny Benedict, the Director of Library Services, was the “Master of Ceremonies.”
Just before eleven, the West Vancouver Youth Band played and the crowd clapped as an honour guard of flag-bearers led into formation a parade of veterans, alarmingly few remaining it seems, and ranks of local cadets, first responders, scouts, guides and cubs. Then, as four Harvard training aircraft flew overhead, there was the Last Post, two minutes of silence, the Lament and the Rouse. It is always stirring when so many people of all ages, children and dogs among them, stand in perfect silence to mark the ritual of remembrance. Whenever I hear the familiar words of In Flanders Fields, recited as they were today by two students, I think of the thousands at home and abroad who serve in our military and related services. Out of sight, they are not out of mind. Never more so than on November 11th.
At the end of the ceremony, the local Legion, the West Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, and the Friends of the Library invited everyone to Open Houses. I went to the Library where the Book of Remembrance was on display, as were examples of the Research to Remember Project which accumulated documentation relating to all local participants in the two World Wars. With coffee and cookies at hand, the Dundarave Players led everyone in a sing-along of First World War songs. We sang the repertoire: The White Cliffs of Dover, It’s Long Way to Tipperary, Lili Marlene, Pack Up Your Troubles, There’s a Long Long Trail, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, and on and on. It was spirited, sentimental, and great fun. It occurred to me that the days of such sing-songs are likely numbered. Even without the words on the overheads, the crowd in the library knew the words and the tunes; few young people and new Canadians will know them now, or in the future.
To end the day, I attended “One Last Song,” the 25th Annual Remembrance Day concert of the seventy-voice Chor Leoni Men’s Choir. Directed by Erick Lichte and accompanied by pianist Ken Cormier, they sang a rich collection of music, one piece after another, interspersed only with poetry readings from Siegfried Sassoon, Rudyard Kipling, and others. From the Scottish traditional “Will you go to Flanders?” and “Un Canadian errant,” through Alberta Celtic song-writer Lizzy Hoyt’s “Vimy Ridge,” adapted for choir and accompanied by a guitar, to a première performance of a new tune to “In Flanders Fields.” Then, Mendelssohn’s “Beati Mortui,” Kenneth Jennings’ music to the Dylan Thomas text “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Siegfried Sassoon’s text “Armistice: 1918 (Everyone Sang).” The concert concluded with the Last Post, two minutes of silence, and the entire congregation joining in the singing of “Kontakion,” with text from the Eastern Orthodox Memorial Liturgy. There was not an empty seat in the large West Vancouver United Church where the concert took place and few left unmoved by what we had heard. Such music seems so very right on Remembrance Day.