At this time of year, you can find them on the lapels of many Canadians. The poppy since 1921 has served as a symbol of remembrance, honouring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
It has been 64 years since the last Great War, and with the passage of time there are fewer and fewer to tell the story, said veteran Ray Cameron, who served in the Canadian Merchant Navy in WWII. And, he added, fewer people who remember that great sacrifice at all.
Since confederation in 1867, approximately 116 thousand Canadian soldiers have paid with their lives for the freedoms we have today including 133 men and women who have died in Afghanistan.
“The poppy does not only honour my generation but the generation of men and women serving in Afghanistan today,” said Cameron, a member of legion branch 614 in Scarborough.
Cameron has worked tirelessly not only as a past chairman of his branch’s poppy campaign, but also in a decades-long campaign to lobby the federal government to recognize merchant seaman who served during the war as veterans.
“We were on the frontline along with the men in the Navy, but it wasn’t until 1995 that we were formally recognized for the role we played in the war”, Cameron said.
Canadian Veterans Affairs just this past year sent a letter of apology to merchant seamen and their families, and Cameron was a recipient of a 2009 commendation for service to his country for both during, and after the war.
On Remembrance Day Cameron can often be found speaking in local schools to children not much younger than he was when he joined-up at the age of 17 in 1943.
“I once walked in to a school, and handed a principal a box of poppies. She then turned to me and asked me … What do I do with these?”
Cameron’s experience is not an isolated one. He has heard stories from many of his colleagues and the cadets who are out on the streets distributing the poppies of regular passersby who did not understand what the poppy represents.
One TTC driver commented that in years past, at this time of year he remembers every passenger boarding would have a poppy, but today they are few and far between.
“Education needs to start in the schools”, said Cameron. “It is hard to blame someone for not knowing if no one has ever told them.”
Remembrance Day is Nov. 11, and commemorates the end of WWI in 1918.