This week we commemorate Remembrance Day, and honour those who gave their lives for our freedom.
Some of those we remember are the airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice eighty years ago in the Battle of Britain during World War II. This battle, fought in the skies in 1940, saved that island nation from almost certain invasion by Hitler’s Nazis.
But it came at a terrible cost to the Allied flight crews who were battling the Luftwaffe. The average life expectancy of a Spitfire pilot during the battle was heartbreakingly short: a mere four weeks.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill paid tribute to those airmen in his famous wartime speech on August 20, 1940:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
This became one of the most famous of Churchill’s sayings, and those airmen became known as “The Few.”
But did you know that Churchill actually started out with a different line when he was composing his speech, and felt he had to change it?
In a few days, Canada will be celebrating its birthday. July 1st is Canada Day, a holiday on which we have parties, set off fireworks, and wave the flag.
We’re all attached to our national flags, aren’t we? Each is beautiful in its own way. Some flags have blocks of colour, some feature significant symbols, others have patterns of stars and stripes. A handful of countries depict plants or trees on their flags, mine among them.
Canada’s flag has a maple leaf at its centre. In fact, the nickname for our flag is the Maple Leaf. As a nature lover, I’m proud to have a symbol of a plant on my national flag, and especially pleased that it’s a leaf from one of my favourite trees.
Growing up, I loved maple trees: I climbed them, enjoyed the sugar and fudge made from their sap, collected their red and orange leaves in autumn to press and even jumped into raked-up piles of them.
I’d venture to say that all Canadians love maple trees. The trees themselves are beautiful and stately; the wood harvested from them is so strong it can be used as the flooring for bowling alleys; we harvest precious sap from them to make sought-after products; and the leaves turn gorgeous colours in the autumn.
The maple leaf is the emblem of Canada. It symbolizes who we are as a people: hardy, strong, nature-loving northerners.
Just as the maple tree is important to Canadians, there’s another tree which is very important to a certain group of people:
On Remembrance Day in Canada (Veterans Day in the US), we remember the servicemen and -women who lost their lives to ensure the freedom we cherish so deeply today.
The numbers are staggering: it’s estimated that over 400,000 U.S. military personnel lost their lives during World War II. The US National D-Day Memorial Foundation estimates that over 4,000 Allied servicemen lost their lives on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) alone.