November 11, 1918 on the 11th hour on the 11th day the Great War came to an end. In four short years almost twenty million people died. World War I, as it became known, was not the bloodiest war in history but is noted for the number of deaths in such a sort time and the impact it had on the world after it ended. One of its major effects was, of course, the Second World War from 1939 to 1945. Canada was in the war from the very beginning as a part of the British Empire. As a result of this connection over 600,000 troops joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and almost 60,000 made the ultimate sacrifice. A further 170,000 were injured. Many more unknown suffered from “shell shock”, now known as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One of the most famous members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was John McCrae. Each year in my Remembrance Message I stress the story of the doctor from Guelph, Ontario who wrote one of the most famous poems in the English speaking world, In Flanders Fields. Unfortunately John McCrae did not survive the war, but his memory continues in his words but also in the poppy that so many Canadians wear each November.
Other Canadians, who were less famous than, John McCrae should also be remembered. Some served Canada faithfully despite the fact that they and their families were not treated well by Canada. Filip Konowal ?was a Ukrainian immigrant who won the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour in the British Empire, for his valour at the Battle for Hill 70. When he arrived in Canada he was officially identified as “Russian”. This probably saved him from internment. He considered himself Ukrainian and was of the Greek Catholic faith.
A second was Francis Pegahmagabow from, what is now called, the Shawanaga First Nation in Ontario. He was the most highly decorated soldier in Canadian military history and a very effective sniper. Being a sniper was a particularly dangerous job not only because he operated in enemy territory but because, if captured, protection for prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention was not applied.
Despite this, both men bravely fought for Canada and went on to be great citizens in their own right after 1918. Filip Konowal was patron of Branch #360 of The Royal Canadian Legion in Toronto, while Francis Pegahmagabow served as Chief of Wasauksing First Nation, was a Tribal Councillor, as well as Supreme Chief of the Native Independent Government.
The last Canadian World War I veteran, Gladys Powers, died at the age of 109 in her Abbotsford home in British Columbia. She would have received Veteran Allowances throughout her life, but was also helped by poppy sales. So when we buy our poppy, please give generously and wear it proudly. Finally when singing O Canada and come to the lines “We stand on guard for thee” remember those who have died in the service of Canada. Especially those who died in World War I.