World War One

A hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany as a response to the German invasion of Belgium. Canada never had to officially declare war; the way the government structure was set up at the time, when Britain was at war Canada was automatically at war too. That was changed not long after, so that by the Second World War Canada had to choose to join the fight.

All around Europe and here in Canada there are commemorations being held acknowledging this important anniversary. One hundred years seems so impossibly long ago, and yet the events of that era are still affecting our lives today. Memories of that first devastating conflict are sometimes overshadowed by the World War that followed 25 years later, but the immense cost and influence of the Great War should never be forgotten.

I was downtown Ottawa yesterday to have a fun tourist day, somewhat oblivious of the anniversary. I went in the morning to see the Changing of the Guard, a regular ceremony (summer only, it is mostly for the tourists) similar to that held at Buckingham Palace in London, England. It is a long weekend here in Ontario, so the place was packed with tourists, all enjoying the beautiful (if baking) summer weather.

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Also, there were bagpipes. I love bagpipes. They are so rousing, they make we want to march for miles.

After the ceremony the Guard marches away from Parliament and down Elgin St. I followed, enjoying the marching band music, when I spotted these guys standing outside the Lord Elgin Hotel:

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Completely distracted, I followed them as they marched back up Elgin St. to the National War Memorial. Turns out they were rehearsing for the ceremony that took place this morning, commemorating the anniversary of the start of the First World War. It was interesting to see the old military uniforms, Army and Navy, and a even a couple nurses (though you can’t see them in this image). It was moving, for a moment, to consider what the young men who wore these uniforms a century ago were facing. There was such optimism around the start of the war, and no one seemed to have any idea of the horrors they were about to face. Of course, I was distracted from these thoughts by how surreal it was to see people taking their photos with these re-enactors, as if they were there as a tourist attraction. I can’t really blame them, especially since I kept taking photos as well! It was just an odd juxtaposition, and somewhat jarring.

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I do a lot of family tree research, as I may have mentioned once or twice before, and one of the easier sources to access is Canadian military records. My grandmother’s uncle, John Maxwell Park, fought in World War One and died at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. He is buried in Belgium.

John Maxwell Park - from Ellen McClement via Wikitree

Making connections between historical events and family members, even ones I never could have met, gives these events a whole new meaning to me. And it makes it all the more important that we pause to remember and acknowledge the sacrifice. Those re-enactors yesterday made me pause and remember, and I was glad for the reminder.

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