If 1914 sounds like a long time ago, well, that’s because it was. Nanaimo and the wide world were very different places 100 years ago, when the conflict started that would become known as the First World War.
More than 100 men from Nanaimo who joined the war effort never returned. Across Canada, 67,000 died; worldwide, more than 10 million. It’s interesting that we commemorate the fallen now, in 2014, rather than 2018, which will be the 100-year anniversary of the conclusion of the war. Maybe we will mark that occasion, too, but veterans will tell us that remembrance isn’t about celebrating the end of the war, but rather commemorating those who fought in it.
A hundred years ago, Nanaimo was proud of its fighting men, sped them on their way with community fanfare and celebrated those who returned as national heroes.
War was just as far-off and foreign then as it is now, perhaps more so, but it seems somehow further from our consciousness in modern times. Even as we live in a global community and have a greater understanding of international politics and conflicts, we are disengaged and desensitized to the harsh realities of dusty, smoky, faraway gunfights.
No veteran is alive to remember the First World War, but the freedoms that were won endure. The men who fought 100 years ago may have helped ensure that war remains a foreign and far-off concept.
The News Bulletin marks the centenary of the war this week with a series of articles, including one on a poppy campaign in Nanaimo and on Gabriola Island. Residents are invited to plant seeds, grow the flowers, give pause and remember.
The poppy is both striking and subtle and as a commemoration it’s just right. It can remind us of brave soldiers and lost lives, and it can symbolize hope for the peace that we still seek, 100 years later.