Friday, April 9, 2021

On the 104th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge, Let Us Not Forget the Families they Left Behind



Today is the 104th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 

 

Some 620,000 Canadians answered the call to serve during the First World War.

 

They went to war as Albertans, Nova Scotians, Ontarians... they came home as Canadians.

60,000 of them were never to come home again; 3,598 of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice at Vimy Ridge.

 

As Prince Charles said so very eloquently on the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge,

 

"Canadians displayed a strength of character and commitment to one another that is still evident today. They did not waiver. This was Canada at its best; the Canadians at Vimy embodied the True North Strong and Free."

 

If you have ever visited Vimy Ridge you know there are no words to describe how hauntingly sad and yet beautiful it is.

 

Vimy Ridge is a profoundly moving and meaningful place for all Canadians, but perhaps even more so for military families.

 

When I stood there, I thought not just of the soldiers lost, but also of the 10,602 wounded, and the countless thousands of others who came home with invisible wounds.

I remembered them all, and I remembered the families they left behind. Families that would never be the same.

 

Wives, children, fathers, mothers. 3,598 families just like ours. But so not like ours.

They were left to mourn and grieve in a time that was so different than now. A telegram arrived at their door informing them of their loss and that was it.

 

No regiment standing beside them to guide them through those excruciating early days of loss, no designated assistant to help them navigate the paperwork to receive their widow's pension, no MIlitary Family Resource Centre to provide support for them and their children, and certainly no counselors to help them process their grief.

 

Their soldiers were never brought home to them, many never even knew where their soldier's remains were; their names amongst thousands engraved on the Vimy memorial.

 

“Here ends the roll of 11,285 Canadians who gave their lives in the Great War but the site of whose graves is unknown.”

 

Grave unknown.

 

All they had was a telegram.

 

Just a telegram.





 

They were alone, left to get on with the business of living; their loss an unspoken shadow in their eyes.

 

Many of them would endure more losses as a result of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, compounding their tragedy and further complicating their grief. 

 

These women were the very definition of resiliency, and strength, and courage.

 

And I am humbled to walk in their footsteps.


Today on the 104th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, let us not just remember those brave soldiers who fought and those who were lost at Vimy, but let us also remember those they left behind— the widows, the children, the mothers, and fathers of Vimy.

 

Remember the soldiers’ sacrifice.

 

And remember their family’s loss.

 

For we are they and they are us.



Widows and Wives of Vimy
                                 (National Archives of Canada PA 148874) 

 

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Monday, April 5, 2021

For Canadian Military Widows, There Is No Day of Recognition



April 5th is Gold Star Spouses’ Day in the United States in recognition of the sacrifices made by the surviving (Gold Star) spouses of fallen service members.

 

In Canada, we don’t have a title or a special day of recognition for our military widows and widowers. Rather, they are given a Memorial Cross "as a memento of personal loss and sacrifice” on the part of their service member.

 

So today, let us also take a moment here in Canada to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made by our Memorial Cross Widows (and Widowers).

All military spouses (and families) make incredible sacrifices for their spouse’s career and by extension, our country.

 

But military widows carry the heaviest burden of all. 

 

They carry the weight of a folded flag and their loss with them, for the rest of their lives. 

 

They are the ones left to pick up the pieces of broken hearts and families after their spouse dies.

 

Long after the funeral flowers have wilted and the casseroles are all eaten; still, they grieve. 

 

They endure sleepless nights, shed countless tears, and try to make sense of it all. 

 

They face the abyss of loneliness and despair, and sadly, some of them don’t make it through. 

 

Eventually, they find acceptance and move forward with their lives.

 

But they are never the same.

 

Their loss changes them; their sadness woven into the fabric of the person they have become.

 

They stand up to judgment and criticism and champion change, so that things might be better for the next widow. 

 

They are Afghanistan widows and accidental widows. They are ALS and cancer widows and they are suicide widows.

 

They are the ones who gave birth alone and they are the mothers of infants left to bring up children who will never know their fathers.

 

They are mothers of teenagers, older children, and every age in between.

 

Sometimes they are overwhelmed with the responsibility of only parenting.

 

And some of them are left to grieve the children they never got to have.

 

They are army, air force, and navy spouses.

 

And some of them wear a uniform themselves.


They live in military communities and civilian ones. 

 

They are your neighbours, though you may not even know it; their loss too painful for them to ever discuss.

 

They are your friends and my friends. And yes, they are even me.

 

For them, for us, Remembrance Day isn’t just one day, it’s every day. 

 

Because we can never, ever forget.

 

We are the memory keepers— determined that our spouse’s name never be forgotten, that their sacrifice not be in vain.

 

We are incredibly courageous, resilient, strong women (and men). 

 

And though we belong to a club we never wanted to be a part of, we are stronger because of each other.

 

The next time you think of a fallen soldier, please take a minute to remember the spouse they left behind, for they too made an incredible sacrifice for their country. 

 

We were wives and husbands once. But widows we will always be.

 

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