The telling of stories and the power of the storyteller is part of most human cultures and civilizations.  Daring-do and humour, romance, drama, and tragedy make up most of these, whether they occur in space or centuries past.

Remembrance Day evokes stories. Some stories are not told, and some are heard too often. Those of us who have either lived through war, had loved ones serve during times of war, or conflict has stories too.

The stories that soldiers and civilians can't tell have led to a variety of diagnoses.  Shell-shock and sometimes labels of cowardice or collaboration have been applied. Our understanding of post-traumatic stress syndrome creates an appreciation of the unseen costs of doing one's duty.

In preparation for this year’s Remembrance Day Ceremony, I’ve been looking at photographs of veterans. It makes me wonder what thoughts they have during the ceremony, during those moments of silence in which “We Remember Them”. My traumatic stories present themselves both as singular points in time and short sharp clips. Laughing or sad, the faces appear randomly but in a stream connected by memory and the impact of those moments on me.

I have asked my husband, a veteran of a NATO mission in Afghanistan, about some of the things he remembers. While he was away, we could speak regularly, so I was familiar with his day to day activities. I know about the day his camp came under direct fire, and I know about the monotony too.  Still, I’m also aware that there are other stories, and he has a right to keep them to himself for all the reasons that make him the man he is. Others I know of fared poorly in their missions, exposed as they were to the incredible suffering of children during and in the aftermath of war.

Some stories I have inherited, like the one where I imagine my grandfather, a young man in his 20’s who was resting behind his lines between skirmishes of battle in France in World War I.  I wonder what he was thinking about or imagining when he was shot by an enemy sniper who had snuck into the surrounding landscape.  When the army sent his belongings were home, my Grandmother was told that inside his uniform breast pocket was a small pair of knitted baby booties.  They belonged to my mother, who was 6-months old and whom he would never meet.

On Remembrance Day, I think of both the man I never met and the mother that I loved thoroughly. Their stories are woven with mine; their story and history influence me. Where these memories are more poignant than disturbing, I remind myself that while we remember those who have paid the “ultimate price” during the conflict, there are many who live on in darkness and torment with the memories of things of which they cannot speak. To mind comes a young man who left his family in service of a greater mission, only to have his soul torn apart in sorrow and horror.

Domestic and international conflicts produce as much pain and sacrifice as they ever did. That will not change in my lifetime, I’m sure.  For a few minutes, though, I can bear to hold the enormity of it all and pay my respects.

Joss Rowlands

Joss Rowlands

My grandfather died in World War I, when my mother was only 6-months old.  They never met. His service records were lost in a fire, although he was mentioned in Dispatches. I am the only relative in our family line who can stand for his memory.
The rest of the time, I'm a writer, coach, gardener, reader, knitter, grandmother, cat-mother, spouse and dabbler in all sorts of neuroscience.

North Shore Veterans’ Council Canada