I had the great pleasure of attending the Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa today - the first time I've been able to participate in Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial. Despite the cold and snow, it was a very profound experience.
Temperatures hovered around the freezing point and wet snow was falling as thousands of people gathered at the memorial. When the ceremony started at 10:30 the crowd fell completely silent - the only sound came from the orders being shouted by the parade Sergeant Major and the martial music from the military bands. Every few minutes a cannon boomed on Parliament Hill as the artillery gave a 21-gun salute. The Prime Minister and the Governor General arrived, followed by the Silver Cross mother, whose son had been killed in Afghanistan.
There were no speeches save for the prayers offered by the chaplains, which made the event refreshingly and fittingly apolitical. The hymns sung by the children's choir drifted through the snow as service men and women from the different branches of the Canadian Forces stood at attention in front of the memorial.
At the end of the ceremony after the diplomats had placed their wreaths the military personnel marched off, led by a group of veterans at the head of the parade. Spontaneous and heartfelt applause broke out from the crowd as the veterans went past - many in wheelchairs and in poor health. I realized how frail and elderly the veterans of the Second World War have become - men who in my childhood were young and vital heroes. It won't be long until the last veteran of that conflict appears at the memorial on November 11.
The most touching moment for me was when the spectators were invited to approach the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the memorial and leave their red poppies as a tribute on the grave. People crowded around in complete silence, reverentially removing the poppies from their coats and placing them on the tomb. It was beautiful to watch and be a part of this spontaneous gesture of respect and remembrance.
I came away from the ceremony very moved, and amazed that almost 100 years after the start of the Great War we still come together as a nation to show our respect to those who served and died.