November 11th is usually the last day of the year that most pipers and pipe bands venture into the great outdoors to perform one last time before winter winds sweep down and snow, rain and ice envelope our small part of the globe. This year the forecast, as usual, is calling for single digit temperatures, clouds, snow and rain. It will be an unpleasant experience for many of the bandsmen and women who will battle to keep fingers warm and the cold and dampness from throwing pipes completely out of tune while standing at attention for long periods of time. However, it is a small price for us pipers to pay on a day that recognizes and acknowledges those who weathered much worse conditions, and in many cases, lost their lives in the battle against evil and the pursuit of our freedom today. It is a small price to pay to give back something to those families who lost sons and daughters, husbands, fathers and friends during Canada’s great and not-so-great wars. The traditional lament “Flowers of the Forest” will ring out across cemeteries and cenotaphs around Canada. And unlike Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, where the temperature rarely dips below freezing, in other locations the mercury can drop to many degrees below zero. I personally have played outside in -10 degree weather at a Remembrance Day ceremony in Goose Bay, Labrador. The refreshments afterward were welcome indeed.
As veterans age, many northern cities and towns are holding their ceremonies indoors, in recognition of the failing health of many veterans. And soon, the handful of World War II veterans will be gone. As a boy growing up in a small Maritime town, I recall watching the lines of veterans marching down the street behind the local pipe band. Lines that included dozens of World War I vets. Those thin lines soon gave way to WWII vets only, and now only a few of those hardy veterans remain. What has not changed is the recognition of what these men and women did in the service of their country.
As bagpipers we are part of this significant day; a day to contribute a small part to an important ceremony that, despite the weather, is an honour to participate in and provide an opportunity for those gathered to listen, reflect and recall the sacrifices of those lost in our wars and conflicts. The RCMP E. Division Pipe Band will be doing their part on Monday at the Surrey/Cloverdale cenotaph, followed by a reception in the local legion to honour those who have taken part – and provide a respite from the cold and dampness of a Canadian November day. It’s a national holiday in Canada – and there’s no better way to show your support than to bundle up yourself and your kids and pay your respects at your local cenotaph.
You might want to bring an umbrella.