“We speak glibly of sacrifice, but what do we know of sacrifice?” asked Herbert Sandham Graves in 1941. (submitted)

Column T.W. Paterson: A veteran’s take on Remembrance Day 1941

“We pause for two minutes and we lay wreaths, but what are those in the balance?”

“They gave their lives, their all. We pause for two minutes and we lay wreaths, but what are those in the balance? Nothing!” —Sandham Graves.

Victorian Herbert Sandham Graves, like thousands of other young Canadian men, voluntarily enlisted to serve King and Country in September 1914, the first month of the First World War.

He did so not only willingly, but enthusiastically. His one regret, as he wrote in his memoir The Lost Diary, privately published that same year, was knowing that he’d probably never see his beloved dog again.

So Sandham Graves went to war, ultimately serving in France, Belgium and Palestine. Afterward, he became a journalist and editor of The Daily Colonist until his retirement in 1960.

Almost 20 years before, for Remembrance Day 1941, he’d written an editorial about the perils facing Canada and its Allies. He was no longer the callow, patriotic youth of 1914 but a middle-aged, world-weary veteran of that so-called war to end all wars. Now, again, for the second time in 25 years, the world was in conflict and, in 1941, just two years into the Second World War, the Axis powers were yet on the ascendancy.

For this war, Graves expresses not the heady patriotism of his youth but a sense of resignation that, for all the cost, the job begun in 1914 must be done again by a new generation; this time once and for all. By this time, too, he’s come to believe that the millions who served and gave their all in the Great War have been betrayed by governments and politicians.

Graves: “Remembrance Day, 1941. Perhaps there are easy words for it, but today I cannot find them.

I have just come from a memorial service where the dead in two wars were fresh in everyone’s mind.

There was a widow wearing the medals earned by her husband a quarter of a century ago. There was a veteran, his breast bright with decoration, for whom the memorial wreaths stood in place of a son killed in action only a few months ago.

There were rich men and poor men, standing side by side, who were wondering what was to be the portion of their sons.

Grim, serious and determined were the company, and grim, serious and determined must be our resolution this day.

We have remembered. It was Germany who forgot.

So, today, we must remember that there is a job of work to be redone, and that we had better get along with it.

We must remember that mad dogs are loose on the world, and that there will be no peace until they have been caged again.

We must remember that the free world has made its usual slow start, and that the wheels must be speeded up a good deal before they will match those of the aggressors. We must remember that this is every man’s job, each according to his capacity.

We must remember that it is the 11th hour that counts, and that we are, as yet, some distance from the 11th hour.

We must remember those who are now on the firing line, and see that they are properly supported. It will not do for us to forget.

They are a very gallant company, the men and women who marched out and who did not return.

We speak glibly of sacrifice, but what do we know of sacrifice?

They gave their lives, their all. We pause for two minutes and we lay wreaths, but what are those in the balance? Nothing!

Only deeds, not words, can serve now.

There is a job of work to be redone. It must be finished this time, completed, sheathed home.

That is the message of Remembrance Day. That is what we must remember.

It is up to us now. There is a world to be set free from slavery. There are mad dogs to cage. There are broken homes and broken hearts to mend.

There is something wrong with the world, and little right.

It is a challenge. It is our risk.

It is that which we must remember, today!”

So wrote Sandham Graves of Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, 1941.


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