For ten years I marked this occasion, coordinating and helping to lead (in conjunction with B'nai B'rith) the services held at the Jewish Cemetery in Edmonton Alberta. This service was made much more meaningful as I stood in the presence of my father-in-law Bernie (who served in the RCAF) and the other veterans of World War II. Their courage and sacrifice helped to preserve the freedoms that we cherish today. They also played a real part in the preservation of the Jewish people, as they each played an important role in the defeat of the Nazis.
This year I took part in a much larger service, held at the Commonwealth War Cemetery near Yokohama. It was not a Jewish service. Instead six diverse religious leaders (Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist) each prayed for peace and an end to war throughout the globe, and wreaths were laid, not only by communal leaders, but also by the ambassadors of nearly all the Commonwealth. There were also representatives from the Japanese government, and from the city of Yokohama.
The location of the cemetery was not fortuitous. Instead, it was placed near where most of the young men had died, most of illness not wounds. Nearly all had been captured early in the Pacific war, following the loss of Singapore and Hong Kong. For me, at the Canadian section, it was especially poignant to find that many of the graves marked the resting places of young men from Winnipeg -- my father-in-law's home city. As he went east to fight from British shores, these young men went west.
Quite a lot is now known of the young men and their time as prisoners of war. Two Japanese women dedicated themselves to finding and sharing all that they learned. Apparently they speak little English, but they have dedicated themselves to ensuring that each of the young men was remembered. They too were here, and they laid a wreath.
There were young men of every religion and tradition buried in the cemetery. I came upon graves with the cross of Christianity, the star of Judaism, the ohm of Hinduism, and the crescent of Islam. Epitaphs on many contained reminders that these young men fought for peace and justice. They lie together, whatever their traditions, perhaps calling on us to remember their sacrifice, demanding that we together create a world of peace and justice.
As the service progressed, there were reminders of Canada. Of course all of us wore red poppies, fulfilling a Commonwealth Remembrance Day tradition. But apparently not all poppies are created equally. The Canadian Military Attaché gave me a Canadian poppy -- like ones I have worn for the last ten years -- mentioning that these were much better than the standard Commonwealth poppy. I also noticed that the Canadian wreaths, with the name of our country emblazened, were unique among all of the standard Commonwealth wreaths. These little details reminded me of Edmonton, and connected me with Bernie and many others, who are joining together at the Jewish Cemetery today to commemorate Remembrance Day.
Yesterday was a pleasant but windy 18 celsius, and the hillside cemetery could not have been more beautiful with its forest of trees covered with autumn leaves. Even the occasional light rain did not distract from its beauty. But despite its beauty, grave after grave of young men who never had a chance to live their lives, was a reminder of the horrible cost of war. For me it was a cry of "never again." It was a prayer that one day humanity "will beat its swords into plough-shears and its spears into pruning hooks, and that nations will know war no more".