By Douglas Phillips

In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row

The first two lines of the poem, written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae in May 1915 during the First World War, are recited as part of the Remembrance Day Service across Canada as we gather in front of our local memorials to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.  The wreaths are laid followed by two minutes of silence and then the words “WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.”  The service ends with the Last Post and a new tradition of laying our poppies on the Memorial.  

The Great War Veterans Association adopted the poppy as its national flower of Remembrance on the 5th July 1921.  From 1922 disabled Canadian war veterans made the lapel poppies that were sold in Canada. The Royal Canadian Legion took over the task of producing the poppies for Remembrance Day, and donations for the poppies help to support our veterans and their families.  According to Veterans Affairs they estimate today there are just over 461,000 veterans, of which there are 23,000 Indigenous veterans in Canada, and only 25,000 from the Second World War and Korean Wars.  There are now the veterans from the Afghanistan War, United Nations Peacekeepers, NATO veterans, and Silver Cross Mothers.  Take some time to say thank you to them for their service, Veterans and Mothers appreciate a few kind words.

Another Remembrance Day Tradition is to open the family photo album and share the photos of your great grandparents and grandfathers, fathers, mothers, uncles, and aunts who also served, along with their medals. These are our Portraits of Honour, and many families proudly display them at the Remembrance Day Service in place of those who are no longer with us.

The Korean War (The Forgotten War), June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953.  Canada had just commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement on July 27th, 1953.  On this date a cease-fire was established, at which time the front line was back around the 38th parallel.  A Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) was established around it, defended by North Korean troops on one side and by South Korean, American and UN troops on the other. The DMZ runs north of the parallel towards the east, and to the south as it travels west. North Korea and the United States signed the Armistice Agreement.

Korean Monument to the Fallen, United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, South Korea, Confederation Park Ottawa. Design Vincent Courtenay, created by Korean artist Yoo Young Mun. Courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada

The Korean Monument to Canadian Fallen is located in downtown Ottawa and commemorates more than 30,000 Canadians who served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, and as peacekeepers in Korea until 1957. Inscribed on the monument are the names of 516 courageous Canadians who gave their lives for freedom and peace. The monument depicts a Canadian volunteer soldier and two Korean children. The girl is holding a bouquet of maple leaves and the boy is holding a bouquet of maple leaves and Roses of Sharon, Korea’s national flower. An identical monument stands in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, Korea, where 378 Canadians lie buried.

The Afghanistan War (2001–14) was Canada’s longest war and its first significant combat engagement since the Korean War. After the 2001 terror attacks on the United States, Canada joined an international coalition to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime that sheltered it in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban were removed from power and the al-Qaeda network was disrupted, Canada and its allies failed to destroy either group, or to secure and stabilize Afghanistan. More than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served in the 13-year campaign. The war killed 165 Canadians — 158 soldiers and 7 civilians.

One of the most poignant and dedicated memorials to the memory of the Canadian soldiers, sailors and aircrew that lost their lives serving in Afghanistan, is The Portraits of Honour mural created by Cambridge artist Dave Sopha. It took over 10,000 hours to paint the 10 by 42-foot mural.  Dave worked from dawn to dusk painting from photos the families had sent him of the fallen, and in the centre of the painting, he placed a white dove, symbolizing peace, love, and serenity.

Cambridge, Ontario artist Dave Sopha. Working on the The Portraits of Honour Mural. Courtesy of Terri Sopha

Once completed, the mural toured across Canada coast to coast to every town that had lost a father son or daughter. The Tour lasted seven months with a special stop in Calgary where Dave met the Prince and Princess of Wales who came to pay their respects. Arriving back home December 10, 2011, in Cambridge a special dinner was arranged that included many Silver Cross Mothers and Comrades of the fallen.

The mural traveled 47,000 kms, stopping at 120 separate locations. At most stops The Portraits of Honour was greeted by the mayor and given a military escort. The mural was also displayed at the Juno Beach Centre in France in 2013.

The Portraits of Honour Mural. Artist Dave Sopha. Courtesy of Terri Sopha

Sadly, Dave is no longer with us, he passed away on May 16, 2021.  Dave received the Meritorious Service Medal and was the recipient of numerous other awards and honours for his work. He will always be remembered for dedicating his whole life to supporting our Veterans.

To find your relative visit: – The Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM) a registry to honour and remember the sacrifices of the more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who, since Confederation, have given their lives serving in uniform.

The names of fallen soldiers are also inscribed in the Books of Remembrance.

Footnotes: John McCrae’s immortal poem In Flanders Fields has endured the test of time and gives us a glimpse into those WW1 dark days. The Guelph Museum website carries details on the McCrae’s House, Memorial Garden and Remembrance Day events

WW1 Portrait with Poppies. Corporal George Eastman DCM. Died June 13, 1916, buried Bedford House Cemetery Courtesy of Douglas Phillips

References: Veterans Affairs Canada, Wikipedia, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Canadian War Museum.  

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