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'In Flanders Fields' Connects Young Canadians With History

11/10/2015 03:57 EST | Updated 11/10/2016 05:12 EST
Dennis K. Johnson via Getty Images
Diksmuide, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Europe

In my earliest memory of reciting "In Flanders Fields," my legs are crossed and I am sitting on the dusty floor of a school gymnasium. It is the only poem that I really knew at the time and it is the only one that has remained with me more than three decades later.

This year marks the centennial anniversary of the writing of In Flanders Fields, the iconic Canadian poem from Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. We no longer have any veterans of the First World War still with us: we have lost that direct connection with their stories -- of the tragedy of war, of the reasons why they enlisted to fight, of the impact of the war on them, their families and their country.

But "In Flanders Fields" remains the strongest link between Remembrance and youth in Canada: at Remembrance Day ceremonies, the poem is most often recited by young people; it is the centrepiece of Remembrance Week ceremonies at schools across the county; it is used to explain why we wear a poppy to remember those who served.

A recent poll commissioned by the Vimy Foundation found that 80 per cent of young Canadians (age 18 to 34) could correctly identify "In Flanders Fields" as the iconic poem written during the First World War. Moreover, nearly 70 per cent of this group could name its author, John McCrae, a figure 10 points higher than the other demographics polled.

This is encouraging. In a country that traditionally does not know its own history, young people are often identified as the main offenders. But this poem is different. It represents something that is ours. Written by a Canadian, learned by Canadians and recited by Canadians.

This Remembrance Week (Nov. 5 to 11, 2015), the Vimy Foundation is calling on all Canadian schools to help pass the torch of remembrance by reciting "In Flanders Fields."

In only a few weeks, teachers and principals from every province and territory in Canada have registered their classrooms and schools to recite "In Flanders Fields" during Remembrance Week. Our goal of 100,000 will be reached by Remembrance Day.

So, when you attend a Remembrance Day ceremony in your community, at your office, or in your school this week, I encourage you to take a minute to recite those 100 words. On the 100th anniversary. And alongside those 100,000 young people.

Lest we forget.

Jeremy Diamond is the Executive Director of the Vimy Foundation. Founded in 2006, the mission of the Vimy Foundation is to preserve and promote Canada's First World War legacy, as symbolized with the victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, a milestone when Canada came of age and was then recognized on the world stage. Visit www.vimyfoundation.ca or find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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