For those of us in Canada, November 11 is an occasion to honour the sacrifices of those who left our country forever, as well as the contributions of those who were fortunate enough to return.
But in Canada, our wars have all been fought on foreign soil, and we may forget that casualties and misery of war do not only fall on soldiers, but on innocent civilians.
A personal reminder of that came recently when reading old family letters. One from a great-uncle in London to my grandmother in Winnipeg, dated May 31, 1940, just as British forces were about to evacuate from Dunkirk, reads:
However, and without doubt, we shall I fear have much to go through re: air raids which is the worst nightmare to cope with, God knows we re however prepared for it and to stick it bravely and to carry on. The tension is truly great though. We have hundreds of barrage balloons around us here& their wire cables right over our roof and across my lawn in fact but I am sadly afraid not of much use altogether, now that the devils fly high up and don t trouble to do more than drop their half-ton bombs indiscriminately on hospitals, schools and non-military targets.
His prediction was all too accurate.
A letter from his wife dated Jan. 12, 1941, announces my great-uncle s death from cancer, and other tragic news:
In Oct. during a severe air raid on London, Leslie Freeman, Winnie s husband, was on duty as a Home Guard and the drill hall where he was resting got a direct hit and Leslie was killed outright.
More than 60,000 British civilians died in The Blitz, a period of sustained bombing on London and other cities between Sept. 7, 1940 and May 10, 1941. London was bombed for 76 consecutive nights.
War being war, the Allies responded with punishing bombing raids on Germany, where it s estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 civilians were killed, and on France, where more than 65,000 died.
Even those figures pale in comparison with deaths from starvation, disease and other causes across all fronts during the war, including horrors such as concentration camps and the staggering losses from the Battle of Stalingrad. Wikipedia estimates that in the Second World War, between 23 million and 25 million military lives were lost, but civilian deaths were between 38 million and 55 million. More than 12 million of those were in the Soviet Union.
It seems inconceivable to be estimating deaths in the millions, but that continues today when counting civilian casualties in Congo, or in Sudan, where there is a particularly deadly combination of war and drought. For readers of this newspaper, it s worth remembering that many if not most of those affected are farmers. Wars are often fought on farmland, and many of the world s farmers continue to face death and injury from unexploded munitions, including those still uncovered from WWI battles in Flanders.
This November 11, let s honour those who ended war, but also remember those who suffered its consequences.