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David_james
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« on: May 10, 2007, 09:19:56 PM »


OTTAWA (CP) - The last of Canada's First World War veterans, "as gallant a band as ever bore arms in the service of their country," are dying and with them goes the living memory of that war.


The death Wednesday of Dwight Wilson leaves only one known Canadian veteran of the hundreds of thousands who soldiered between 1914 and 1918 - 106-year-old John Babcock, who lives in Spokane, Wa.


Once Babcock is gone, the last flesh and blood links across the decades will be severed, leaving history instead of memory. And history tends to be forgotten.


"It will be a huge turning point," says Pat Brenna, a historian from the University of Calgary, who teaches on the First World War.


"It will mark the beginning of a new age in terms of how we remember World War One.


"How the hell do we remember the Boer War or the War of 1812?"


He says the Second World War remains vivid in the public mind because surviving vets keep it there with Remembrance Day parades, in documentaries and memoirs and talks to school children.


There are still men who can recount what it was like to pilot a Lancaster bomber, dogfight in a Spitfire or land on D-Day. But who is left to talk of Sopwith Camels or the misery of the trenches?


The loss of that human connection means a loss of remembrance, says Brenna.


"Once it becomes a historical event, it's like an artifact. It'll only be slightly more important than the War of 1812."


Others, though, including historian Terry Copp from Wilfrid Laurier University, feel the First World War is so deeply ingrained in the national psyche that its memory will outlive its participants.


"The level to which the First World War will continue to capture imagination is still quite strong," he said.


"There is something there, the scale of it, the mythology about it, that makes it likely to last a little bit longer than the veterans."


The 1917 battle of Vimy Ridge, described in detail in Pierre Berton's best-selling 1986 book, has become a touchstone as the moment when Canadian nationhood was born and that will likely last, says Copp, who along with Brenna was interviewed last year in preparation for this article.


"For Canadians, unless there's a big shift in their attitudes toward Vimy and the First World War and the notion of the nation coming of age and all that stuff that has been around since Pierre Berton's book and a lot of the other attention that's been focused on it, that at least will survive."


But the war will eventually be reduced to shelves and Internet files of documents, museum displays of uniforms, rifles and old artillery pieces and the faded letters and diaries, sepia photographs and great grandpa's tarnished medals tucked away in a drawer somewhere.


There have been efforts to make the war more accessible. Veterans Affairs has collected video and transcripts of interviews with vets recounting their experiences. The archives has posted thousands of pages of regimental war diaries on the web, recounting the day-to-day life for tens of thousands of young men.

There are books and memoirs and historians still dredge the records in London, Paris, Canberra and Ottawa. But once the men are all gone, the intimate connection is broken.

Strangely enough, however, the echoes of the First World War reverberate in the modern world much more so than those of the second.

The impact of 1914-1918 is still seen in culture, in literature, even in the idioms of the language. References to the trenches or going over the top or superstitions about three on a match all come from the First World War.


Novels set in or around the war are far more common that those set in the 1939-45 conflict.

Canadian war memorials and the stained glass windows in older churches were mostly commissioned to commemorate the dead of the first war, with 1939-1945 and Korea added as afterthoughts. The Peace Tower in Ottawa remembers the first war, not the second.

Remembrance Day itself marks the moment the war ended, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

The troubles in the Balkans, the simmering unrest in Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are all legacies of the war and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles.

The war destroyed the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires and set the world on the troubled path to national self-determination.

Russia sank into communist totalitarianism for another 70 years. Germany, stripped of its colonies, saddled with huge reparations bills and with portions of its territories carved away, brooded for another 20 years before erupting into the Second World War.

Turkey lost its Middle Eastern lands to the uncertain administration of the British and the French, leaving hot spots that still trouble the 21st century.


The map of Europe was redrawn. Serbia and Montenegro disappeared as separate countries, to surface in bloody strife in the 1990s. Austria, Hungary appeared as new countries. Ethnic groups were shoehorned into Czechslovakia and Yugoslavia, only to break apart three generations later. Poland, dismembered by its neighbours more than a hundred years earlier, reappeared in Europe for an unsteady two decades before falling under Nazi and then Soviet domination and had its boundaries redrawn again after 1945.

For Canada, the war was an uplifting and tragic watershed.

The triumphs of the Canadian Corps were seen as the stepping stones to nationhood, in English Canada, at least.

British historian Sir Basil Liddell Hart described the Canadians and their impact on the war: "It is a simple statement of fact that the Canadian Corps was the outstanding formation on the Western Front on either side; no nation could match it."

Canada was a child of the British Empire in 1914. In 1919, it signed at Versailles on its own behalf. The war stirred expansion in agriculture and industry and led to greater rights and participation for women in society.

But the price was unbelievably high. About 60,000 Canadians were killed out of a population of about eight million. The equivalent casualty list today would be 240,000. In contrast, the United States, with more than 90 million people, lost 50,000 killed.

In a country where the death of a single soldier in Afghanistan can lead to national mourning, the deaths of about 4,000 men at the battle of Vimy Ridge - most of them on the first morning of the four-day fight - seems unbearable.

Copp says it was a war that focused nations, which may have made the casualties bearable and which cemented it in the national memory.

"That was the idealistic war, not the Second World War," he said.

"People really thought the invasion of France and Belgium and the defeat of the Germans was a moral issue, an issue that defined their nationhood, their Christianity, their morality."
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Soldier4Christ
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« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2007, 09:35:32 PM »

The warriors of WWI will not be forgotten, at least not by me. To me they are like the ones that founded America in the first place. They fought and many gave their lives to fight tyranny and give us all the chance for freedom. May Dwight Wilson rest peacefully.

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« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2007, 09:49:05 PM »

The warriors of WWI will not be forgotten, at least not by me. To me they are like the ones that founded America in the first place. They fought and many gave their lives to fight tyranny and give us all the chance for freedom. May Dwight Wilson rest peacefully.


Amen
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Rev 21:4  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
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