TORONTO - Every year, on November 11th, Canadians observe Remembrance Day. It is a solemn day which marks the end of WWI and honours the men and women who served and continue to serve during times of war, conflict and peace.
This year, traditional ceremonial events marking the day of Remembrance will take on a different form.
Cities across the nation, like Toronto, are asking the public to pay their respects virtually instead of in person, in light of Covid-19 restrictions. By now, these “virtual” assemblies seem common place in an environment where the health and safety of citizens are top of mind.
Traditionally, the day is one to honour and pay respects to the over 2.3 million Canadians who served, throughout the nation’s history, and the more than 118,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice. Moreover, honouring all soldiers who fought and died for the freedom we all enjoy stretches far beyond our borders.
This year’s memorial services also mark a significant milestone, the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War (WWII). We honour, recognize and remember all veterans who served and all those soldiers whose final resting place are in cemeteries all over Europe.
For example, the Monte Cassino War Cemetery is one of the largest WWII cemeteries in Italy. The cemetery is located in the province of Frosinone, approximately 120km southeast of Rome. It is the final resting place of over 800 Canadians and holds the graves of 1,072 Poles who died during the battle of Monte Cassino (May 1944), one of the most aggressively fought “inland” battles in Europe.
The town of Cassino and its hill (Monte Cassino) was the last German stronghold left along the Gustav Line. The battle, between January-May 1944, involved four Allied assaults against the Nazi- German Winter Line during the Italian campaign. On May 17th, soldiers from the Polish II Corps, under the command of Lieutenant General Władysław Anders, launched one of the final assaults on the German defenders who were ultimately driven from the ruins of Monte Cassino. The historic hilltop abbey was destroyed by Allied bombing.
The reconstructed monastery, atop Monte Cassino, overlooks the cemetery, designed in the shape of an amphitheatre, as if a witness to the final act.
Normally, it is customary to visit war memorials and cemeteries to honour and pay respects to the fallen veterans. However, this year, with travel restriction and limitations on public gatherings, those wishing to pay their respects are encouraged to do so remotely.
Here in Canada, wearing a poppy is a symbol of respect to honour fallen Veterans. It is just one way to pay tribute to the ultimate sacrifices the soldiers have made for our freedom.