David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

How Do We Remember War?

Brandon Sun, November 10, 2014 - David McConkey

War. Remember war. We remember war. Do we remember war? How do we remember war?

Remembrance Day this year is especially poignant. We are at the 100-year anniversary of the First World War: the “Great War.”
Remembering war is hard. It can be hard to remember the war dead. The people of Brandon discovered that in the years right after the Great War. How should the war dead be remembered?

Various suggestions were made for a war memorial for Brandon – like a monument in front of city hall, a statue, a public building, or a library. One proposal called for a carillon to be installed in city hall: bells that would “never go out of tune if rung for a thousand years.”

But every idea failed to materialize. No plan for a memorial could get agreement from civic leaders or financial support from city council.
Tired after years of delay, the veterans themselves acted. In May 1924, the Great War Veterans’ Association placed an order for a “Cross of Sacrifice.” The cross would be a towering war memorial for Brandon. The veterans then challenged the community to raise the $5,000 needed to pay for it.

“The Great War veterans acted, while others talked,” the Cross of Sacrifice committee stated in the Brandon Daily Sun. “The war veterans are stepping on nobody’s toes – they have just stepped over them into action.” Announcing a ten-day fundraising campaign, the committee starkly outlined the urgent need: “The Cross is ordered, the plot is ready. There is no time now for talking. The time has come to pay.”
“At once dignified and expressive,” the Sun said, describing the Cross of Sacrifice in a front page headline. “There are some things which should not be allowed to pass altogether from the mind, and among these are the Great War and the sacrifices it entailed. And so we will erect a memorial.” 

The Brandon Daily Sun in this case not only reported the news, it also helped make the news. Donations for the cross were made in care of the newspaper; during the campaign the Sun office was open every evening from 7 to 9 p.m. to receive contributions.

Brandon War Memorial“Cross of Sacrifice campaign is enormously successful,” the Sun proclaimed as the campaign concluded. In the end, almost $7,500 was raised. Surplus funds would be held in trust for upkeep of the memorial. The cross would be placed in the Brandon Cemetery, “in a most eminent position in the soldiers’ plot, and the entire grounds will be beautifully prepared.”
Procuring the Cross of Sacrifice as Brandon’s war memorial is part of our past. And also part of our continuing heritage. The cross still stands, “dignified and expressive.” The grounds at the cemetery are still “beautifully prepared.” The memorial still remembers “those who died for King and country in the Great War.”

Over the years the cross has been updated to remember those who served in the Second World War, the Korean conflict, and as peacekeepers. The memorial is now maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. These crosses are in Canadian and other cemeteries around the world. Brandon’s cross is special because it was paid for by community fundraising.

If it is hard to remember the war dead, it is also hard to remember the full range of ugly fallout from war. It can be hard to remember the war wounded. And then to remember our obligation to look after their wounds after the war is over. These wounds are physical and also psychological – called “shell shock” in the Great War.
There was some additional ugly fallout in Canada during the Great War: “enemy alien” internment camps. One camp was right here in Brandon. Helping us to remember, a plaque was finally placed this year at the actual site of the camp at 10th and Victoria.
Lastly, it can be hard to remember when we are not aware of the total tragedy caused by war. One is widespread sexual violence inflicted on women and girls in places affected by conflict. Such violence apparently has been part of the turmoil of war since time immemorial. This violence has been covered up by a general conspiracy of silence. But remembrance means ending all silence.

War. Remember war. We remember war. Do we remember war? How do we remember war?

* * * *
See also:  

Reflections on the Great War

Community Memorials a Link to the Great War

War and Remembrance

Manitoba History – A Citizen Appreciation



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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