Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lest We Forget

Last week I wrote about Guy Fawkes Day, but now 6 days later there is another day that should never be forgot. The far more popular Remembrance Day.

I hope that you are all wearing your poppies and showing respect to those who died in the name of our country. While I do not necessarily agree with the current conflict in Afghanistan, I still include the current soldiers in my thoughts.

Last Spring I was fortunate enough to go to Juno Beach in France. For those of you unaware, this is were the Canadian soldiers landed On June 6, 1944, in the invasion that began the end of the war in Europe.

A mere stones throw from the beach is the Juno Beach Centre, a museum of sorts talking about Canada and World War II. It outlines Canada in the build up to the War, then about how Canada was during those years, then finishes with information on Canada today. It includes a variety of first hand accounts of people's experiences, including a section where you can hear letters from soldiers read a loud.

As you enter the museum you are escorted into a small room that has televisions lining the wall. The room is made to be the exact size and dimensions of one of the boats that the soldiers landed on the beach with. The televisions began to play a battle scene as you feel that you are really there. It was hard to look all 360 degrees that were required for me to absorb all of the information. I hope that I only have to imagine what it would be like to have those bullets be real instead of virtual.

While I have a very good memory, it is not good enough to give a detailed play-by-play from eight months ago. Also, this is really something that should be experienced.

But there is one thing about that experience that really stuck out to me. Near the end of the exhibit there was a television on display above a small hallway. The screen had a scrolling display of the names of every Canadian who died during the war. Nothing fancy, just a simple white font on a black screen moving up at a reasonable speed for people to read it. When I arrived, they were just finishing showing those whose last name began with A. I have heard stories of my great-uncle, Raymond Dolan, who was shot down over North Africa, and I thought it would be good to try and take a picture of his name on the screen to show some members of my family.

I wandered around the rest of the museum and occasionally checked the progress of the screen to try and estimate how long I had to wait until it made it's way to the D's. I wandered around the museum for a good 20-30 minutes and I thought that I may have missed my time. How wrong I was. After all that time, the screen was at 'Be'.

This really him me. I took a second to figure out how long it took to go through a portion that small of the alphabet and I figured that it would take at least 12 hours to go through the names of all of the Canadian soldiers who died in the war. As a history major, I have read the facts and figures many times. This, however, put it into real terms for me, each of those people had a name, a heart broken mother, and possibly some descendants like me coming to that very place and realizing the same thing that I was.

At this point, I realized that my bus was leaving shortly so I needed to head on out without seeing the name of my great-uncle. Since I didn't have several hours to kill.

All in all, Juno Beach was a fantastic experience and if any of you happen to be in France I really recommend it. I stayed in the small town of Bayeux (a cool place in its own right!!!) and it makes a great place to go and relax a bit after some frantic times in Paris.

Here are some of my pictures from Juno Beach, hoep you enjoy, and more importantly, get a chance to show me some of your own!!!

Look just like any other beach doesn't it?

One of the many abandoned bunkers that have been left as a grim reminder.

Not sure if you can read that sign, but it says "Here On the 6th June, 1944 Europe was Liberated by the Heroism of the Allied Forces" . Just to the right of the pillar you can see people playing in the ocean. Fitting isn't it?

Until next time,


Saturday, November 4, 2006

A Day that Should Never be Forgot...

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
Gunpowder Treason and plot ;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
'Twas his intent.
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below.
Poor old England to overthrow.
By God's providence he was catch'd,
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holloa boys, Holloa boys, let the bells ring
Holloa boys, Holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip Hoorah !
Hip hip Hoorah !
A penny loaf to feed ol'Pope,
A farthing cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down,
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar,'
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head,
Then we'll say: ol'Pope is dead.

-- British Nursery Rhyme

Hello everyone, glad that you lasted past that long introduction, and welcome to today's blog entry-apalooza. Tomorrow, November 5, is one of my other favourite holidays of the year, Guy Fawkes Night!!!!!!

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about (i.e. have yet to see V for Vendetta), allow me to explain. On November 5, 1605, a man by the name of Guy Fawkes (And his conspirators) were captured in an attempt to kill King James I and both branches of the British Parliament, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. They attempted this by hiding large amounts of gun powder in the cellar of the House of Parliament and planned on detonating it while the King made a joint address to both Houses.

Guy was of course found, convicted and killed. Since then, every 5th of November, has been an annual celebration in Britain. They celebrate the day by having massive bonfires, igniting fireworks and burning effigies of Mr. Fawkes. You can wiki the man HERE and the night HERE.
In the years that followed, the English public became increasingly anti-Catholic, worrying that it was all a huge plot by the Pope to eliminate Anglicanism (thus those last several lines of the poem, which do not tend to be repeated in recent years). The people of England entered a huge state of fear, dreading another strike by an invisible enemy. Sound familiar?

As many of you know, I spent last year living in Scotland, so I was in Britain last 5th of November for the festivities. This happened to be the weekend that myself, and four of my fellow Canadians rented a car to go and take a road trip up to Inverness.

As we are driving on this Saturday night we see a series of bonfires with crowds of people gathered around them. We look around and think that this is a pretty cool thing and admire their resilience for staying outside on a cold Highlands night. As the night drags on, the sky lights up with fireworks. Every July 1 I see fireworks, but nothing like this. It seemed as if every town, hamlet, and farmer's field purchased enough gunpowder to declare war on a small oil Emirate. There was even a point when we were driving past a small town (who for the life of me I can't even remember the name of) and we saw three separate fireworks displays competing to illuminate the sky. It was unbelievable.

After a while we decided that we should stop and enjoy the bonfire, fireworks, and culture. So we pull over in the small town of Baxter, and this is what we see:

This pictures does not even begin to do it justice. Now I was a good hundred feet away from this bonfire and it looked like that. I was warm facing this fire the size of a house. Of course, there was more than just this gigantic fire, as there were fireworks going off as men, women, and children gave their collective ooo's and ahhhh's. Of course, in typical Scottish fashion, there was a beer tent full of inebriated locals.

After the fireworks died down we got back into our rented car and continued driving towards Inverness. I decided to call my grandmother (who left England after WWII) to wish her a happy Guy Fawkes Day.

I assume many of you have seen the aforementioned V for Vendetta. If not, I sincerely hope that you do, it is simply brilliant. In that movie, the main character V is a Guy Fawkes inspired anarchist. We spend the movie not even seeing his face, but rather a mask of Guy himself. He leads a revolution against a future government that is almost Orwellian in its approach, by serving as a symbol for hope and change...oh and by using a ton of explosives and sweet martial arts moves that Hugo Weaving must have learned from his time as Agent Smith.

Four-hundred years ago Guy was a villain, accused of the vilest crime of treason, and the even more vile crime of Catholicism. Yet, now a character based on Fawkes is treated as a hero for his commitment to individual freedoms, and sticking it to the man. What a difference a few centuries make!!!

So I can't help but wonder just a little bit. If Guy Fawkes can go from villain to hero, even to the point of ranking #30 on the 2002 list of all time greatest Britons, what can happen to the villains of today? Is it so far out of question to imagine a day when Osama bin Laden is given the same amount of respect? Fawkes was considered a vile terrorist at the time, seeking to disrupt social order for his own purposes. Sounds a lot like what people say about bin Laden now doesn't it?

Just an interesting thought to ponder...

Hope you all celebrate Guy Fawkes Night somehow!!! If you can't have fireworks, please find some way to stick it to the man. Do it for ol' Guy.

Until next time,