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remembrance day ceremony
This year, Ottawans gathered at the National War Memorial for a proper but slightly subdued ceremony. Photo: Hailey Otten/Fulcrum
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A day to remember soldiers both known and unknown

Plot eight, row E, grave seven: the plot in a French cemetery that was the former resting place of an unknown soldier who died during the First World War. 

Like many Canadians who served, died and fought in WW1 in France, we will never know this soldier’s identity — whether he left behind a widow, a child, a mother, a father. Hopes and dreams. A profession. We don’t even know his name.

On Remembrance Day this Nov. 11, a shaft of light shone upon his tombstone, which reads: “A Soldier of the Great War — A Canadian Regiment — Known Unto God.” Every year since 2000, at 11 a.m. on Remembrance Day, his tombstone is illuminated, symbolically shedding light on the sacrifice of everyday Canadians during wartime.

The tombstone belonged to one of 6,846 “unknown soldiers”; Canadians whose bodies were found abroad during WW1 but unable to be identified.

The brutality of WW1’s Western Front cannot be overstated. It took the lives of nearly 61,000 Canadians, many of whom fought valiantly on the bloody battlefields of Ypres, Vimy, and Passchendaele.

Over 44,000 Canadians died in the Second World War. Hundreds of others have since died in global conflicts. On Remembrance Day, we take the time to honour those who have served, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and those who continue to serve.

Although important to acknowledge and document all deaths, it is impossible to quantify the pain they felt in their final moments, and the loss felt by their families, with numbers and data alone. And for that, we must reflect and try to even begin to understand.

This year, Ottawans gathered at the National War Memorial for a proper but slightly subdued ceremony. As per tradition, the event featured a 21-gun salute, a supersonic jet flyover and, of course, the two minutes of silence concluded by a mournful trumpet solo of “the Last Post”. In our bustling metropolis, there was a remarkably hushed moment.

As for our unknown soldier: instead of Plot eight, row E, grave seven, he now rests beneath the National War Memorial. May his rest be a peaceful one.