Brian Yealland is expecting another full house at today’s Remembrance Day ceremony in Grant Hall.
The University Chaplain said the ceremony has consistently attracted 1,000 students, faculty and staff since he started at Queen’s in 1983.
“It’s fascinating to me that in the years that I had been here, I have seen the interest in Remembrance Day grow considerably,” he said.
“The students arrive here directly or vaguely aware that Queen’s has had a significant role in the war efforts of the First and Second World War,” he said.
More than 1,000 Queen’s students served in both World Wars. 189 students and faculty members died in the First World War and 175 died in the Second World War. The Canadian Officer Training Corps at Queen’s offered a full academic credit for military training during the Second World War.
Students wrote qualifying exams at the end of their training in one of five fields: artillery, engineering, signals, infantry and field medicine.
“It’s not hard to transport yourself to a time when you’re a 19- or 20-year-old student and a war breaks out and you’re called to leave your studies and find yourself serving in some capacity days later,” Yealland said. “The idea of that is a pretty stark one.” Principal Daniel Woolf will offer a short reflection to round out the 20-minute Remembrance Day ceremony. The 700-seat Grant Hall is always standing room only when the event begins, Yealland said.
“We’ve had a whole variety of people give an address but this is the first time in my memory that the principal will,” he said.
The Chaplain said he isn’t worried about students losing interest in the event.
In 1917, then-principal Daniel Miner Gordon wrote an article in the Journal.
“The war has made havoc among our ranks, taking not only many who were already with us but many prospective students also, who would otherwise be now upon our roll,” Gordon wrote.
“Their work overseas is a silent yet urgent appeal to us to fill worthily the places they have left vacant here, to make our University life throb with as keen a sense of duty, as ardent faith and as fervent enthusiasm as inspired their work when fighting gloriously at Ypres and Courcelette, the Somme and Vimy Ridge.”
Yealland said his late predecessor Marshall “Padre” Laverty recalled student anti-war protests interrupting Remembrance Day services in the 1960s and 1970s.
No similar demonstrations have happened on campus since then, Yealland said, though the ceremony has sparked some debate about the commemorative poppy.
White poppies emerged in 1926 as an alternative to the traditional red lapel pin and as a symbol of pacifism after the First World War. German professor Jill Scott said the white flower was born out of No More War movements in the 1920s.
“They [protestors] wanted to draw attention to the massive destruction of World War I,” she told the Journal via email. “Unlike WWII, where it was clear why countries got involved (to free Europe from Hitler, stop the Holocaust, and put an end to Japanese domination of Asia), World War I was seen as nationalistic self-indulgence.”
The white poppy hasn’t been widely recognized in North America.
“Last year, the controversy re-emerged when a group began promoting the white poppy as a symbol of peace,” Scott said. “Veterans were very angry because they said it didn’t honour the losses of military personnel.”
In 2010 the National Post reported that the Royal Canadian Legion had threatened to sue activists distributing white poppies. No legal action followed.
Richard Gimblett, a military historian and adjunct history professor, is one of those veterans.
He said the red poppy doesn’t glorify war.
“It’s not that at all,” the Gulf War veteran said. “It’s remembrance of the sacrifice of men and women in the past.
“I think to try to inject some false premise into that dishonours the sacrifice of the past.”
According to Gimblett, soldiers of the First and Second World Wars deserve the most recognition on Remembrance Day.
“Back in the Gulf War, I had a war thrown upon me,” he said. “When you look instead at the men who joined in the First and Second World War who made a conscious decision to join the military forces knowing they would be going into battle and possibly laying down their lives … I think that takes a great deal of courage.”
Since leaving the navy in 2001, Gimblett has led battlefield tours in France and Belgium. He’s visited First World War cemeteries several times.
“That really reinforced a lot of the thinking I’ve been doing over the decades,” he said.
According to Gimblett, Remembrance Day is something that should resonate with Canadians.
“Remembrance Day isn’t just a concept dedicated to the past, but has immediate repercussions to the present,” he said. “You don’t have to be in agreement with the fighting in Afghanistan to appreciate the sacrifice of men and women who die in battle.”
— With files from Terra-Ann Arnone
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