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Remembrance Day: ‘No one wins in a war, even victors are dehumanised’

Remembrance Day is observed to honour the soldiers of World War 1.

punjab Updated: Nov 17, 2017 10:50 IST
Mukesh Rawat
Mukesh Rawat
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Remembrance Day,World War I,India
Captain Amarinder Singh flanked by British depty high commissioner Andrew Ayre (left) and consulate general of Canada Dr Christopher Gibbins during the Remembrance Day ceremony on Thursday. (Mukesh Rawat)

It is 11 O’clock on a grey November morning. We are in Sector 9, assembled to pay tributes to the fallen soldiers from India, Canada, and the United Kingdom during the First World War.

Gathered here are the consulate general of Canada, the British deputy high commissioner, members and veterans of the Indian Army, among others. The chief minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, a war veteran himself, is the chief guest.

Every year since 2014, the consulate general of Canada and the British high commission have jointly been hosting the Remembrance Day ceremony in the city. Generally observed by the Commonwealth Nations on November 11, Remembrance Day commemorates the end of World War 1. It was on this day in 1918 that hostilities ended, and Germany signed a peace agreement. Of late, soldiers killed in international peacekeeping missions are also remembered on the occasion.

The ceremony commenced with buglers from the army playing ‘The Last Post’, followed by a two-minute silence for the martyrs.

‘They didn’t fight their war, but ours’

Speaking about the contribution of Indian troops during World War 1, Andrew Ayre, British deputy high commissioner, termed it as immense. “They did not fight their war, but fought one that was ours. The freedom and liberty that we enjoy today, is because of their sacrifices in Africa, Europe and Asia during the war.”

He added that over the years, awareness of the role played by Indian troops in both World Wars, alongside British, Canadian and other allied forces, has grown considerably due to various WW-1 centenaries.

‘Loyalty of Indians during WW-1 unmatched’

Recounting the World War 1 experience in Europe from a book, Captain Amarinder Singh said it is a soldier’s duty to fight but we must realise the gigantic price humanity paid during the war. “Overall, 9.7 million soldiers were killed, about 9 million taken as prisoners of war, of which many never returned. Add to this nearly 6.8 million civilians killed in the war.”

He also spoke about the conditions in which Indian troops served and said when they reached Europe, they were in summer clothes. It was only until May next year that the first lot of winter clothes were issued to them, forcing them to brave the winter, which turned out to be the coldest of that decade.

“The loyalty of the Indian troops was unmatched. Often sentries would be found frozen to death because they refused to abandon their posts, despite hostile climate,” he said.

‘Remember those who fight for freedom’

This year also marks the 100 years of the Battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele where Canadian troops had fought bravely and suffered terribly. In his address, Dr Christopher Gibbins, counsel general of Canada in Chandigarh, said, “No one wins in a war. Even the victors are traumatised and dehumanised.”

He added that besides veterans, these are important occasions to also remember all those who lost their lives seeking freedom and those who continue to seek it in different parts of the world.

Poppies bloom in Flanders fields

Over the years, besides commemorating the martyrs, Remembrance Day has also been associated with the red poppy flowers. This is in recognition of the war-time poem ‘In Flanders Field’, written during the horrors of World War 1 by Canadian poet Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.

The story goes that McCrae wrote the poem after the funeral of his close friend who was killed in the war. On the other hand, he also found red poppy flowers blooming on the graves of fallen soldiers in Flanders field, Belgium. The flowers have now become symbol of the Remembrance Day ceremony and the poem is often quoted whenever there is a reference to the brutality of the First World War.

About a century after McCrae wrote:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row…

…We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt down, saw sunset glow,

loved and were loved,

and now we lie…

...we shall not sleep, though poppies grow

in Flanders fields.”

These lines continue to remind us how brutal, unforgiving, and dehumanising war can be.

First Published: Nov 17, 2017 10:50 IST