There hasn’t been one day in over two hundred years without some kind of war on earth. Political, tribal, religious, territorial, civil, regional and global wars. We’ve had a “seven day” war, a “thousand day” war and wars that have lasted a “thousand years” or more. Some wars have cost the lives of a handful of people while others have taken the lives of tens of millions. Overall, it appears the very nature of mankind is to wage war. Referring to World War I, the hopeful phrase “War to End All Wars” was a short lived misnomer. Clearly, these are the days spoken of in the scriptures: “ And they shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars. Behold I speak for mine elect’s sake; for nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. And again, because iniquity shall abound, the love of men shall wax cold; but he that shall not be overcome, the same shall be saved.” (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:28-30)
1918 marked not only the end of World War I, but the end of at least three other wars that had been raging simultaneously: The Southern China Revolt, The Second Sino-Tibetan War and the Finnish Civil War. Not a breath had been taken before three new wars emerged in 1919; The Third Anglo-Afghan war, The Hungarian-Romanian war and the Sparticist Rising in Germany, wars few of us had any idea existed. In 1920, there were ten concurrent wars raging, some of which started well before World War I and some that ended well after!
That’s how it’s been for the past two hundred years or more. Back to back battles overlapping each other as though it were a race to end the existence of mankind. An apparent fulfillment of what Nephi saw: “And I saw them gathered together in multitudes; and I saw wars and rumors of wars among them; and in wars and rumors of wars I saw many generations pass away.” (1 Nephi 12:21)
From my fourth great grandfather to my grandchildren, I would say this constitutes “many generations”. There aren’t enough history classes to study every war and distill the lessons learned or impacts made on the human race. Most wars come and go, unreported by the media. Rarely does a war affect us personally. Here again, the scriptures have it covered, but with a warning: “Ye hear of wars in far countries, and you say that there will soon be great wars in far countries, but ye know not the hearts of men in your own land. I tell you these things because of your prayers; wherefore, treasure up wisdom in your bosoms, lest the wickedness of men reveal these things unto you by their wickedness, in a manner which shall speak in your ears with a voice louder than that which shall shake the earth; but if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (Doctrine & Covenants 38:29)
I doubt one can find two people in ten thousand that know anything about the over two hundred and sixty wars the world has endured just since since 1900. In fact, few of us have any personal experience at all with war, even though there are horrific atrocities taking place all around the world, this very day.
The closest most of us have come to war in this nation, may be that some of us have served in the military and have actually seen first hand - not here, but in other lands - the devastation of such evils. In them, the valiant men and women who have volunteered to play a selfless roll in protecting our freedoms, there is most likely a reverence and a gratitude that escapes the rest of us. So days, like Remembrance Days, become vital. We need moments like this - and that’s all a day like Remembrance Day represents, a moment, a moment to reflect on what it means to be free, what it means to have had someone else pay the price for our freedom. What a thankless and undeserving nation we would be, if we didn’t take moments like Remembrance Day, as a sacrament to the sacrifice others have made, both the surviving and the dead.
Because we’re generally so far removed from the effects and history of war, it may be difficult to put ourselves in a thankful frame of mind. But, it’s critical that we make a concerted effort to turn our hearts and minds towards a state of remembrance. We should do as Paul admonished: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
If we don’t personally know anyone who’s been tried by war, it’s quite likely we haven’t been in touch with our own history. Not many of our ancestors have escaped the turmoils and turbulence of past crusades. Think back to someone who made such a sacrifice; a father, an uncle, a grandfather, an aunt or a grandmother. There were so many ways to serve one’s country. No gender was excluded. If none come to mind, search them out. When found, “reflect” on what it must have been like to suffer the realities of war, as opposed to the drama as seen on TV.
It is appropriate that Joseph F. Smith mentioned his reflecting on the Atonement was what brought about his vision of the redemption of the dead, subsequently recorded as Section 138 in the Doctrine & Covenants. Why is it appropriate? Because Section 138 became scripture in October of 1918, one month before the end of World War I, where a multitude of people had been streaming into the spirit world. The very first verses of Section 138 are examples of how we should perceive our dead. Ponder and reflect: “On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world; And, just like Joseph Smith said in his record: “ ...I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know.” (Joseph Smith – History 1:1, 2 & 12)
We need to reflect on things again and again. It’s why we need Remembrance Day every year. Aubrey Allison Bissett (my grandfather) is a source of reflection for me. Whether the stories he recounted were true, or embellishments, or even outright fabrications, makes no difference to me. Aubrey was a young man in an wildly exciting war torn world. His imagination would have been stretched beyond its normal limits, mixed with fear and bravado. Everyone wanted to be a hero. Everyone was a hero. Memories and imagination were twisted up and stirred into a concoction of mud and blood in the mind’s eye of a young man and his dreams.
So, what made Aubrey Allison Bissett a hero? There were no great feats that went down in the annals of history. There were a few tokens for his service - medals for one thing or another. But nothing of which a movie might be made. I would say Aubrey’s desire to serve made him a hero. Cradled in the arms of liberty and freedom, he never once had the inclination to give his cradle away. In his enemy, we saw a different desire. One that sought to monitor, regulate, manipulate and control, everything he saw, said, ate and did. That wasn’t for Aubrey. To be analytical, he may not have been cognizant of such a high and noble thought. It was ingrained in him to defend his principles. Regardless of his reasoning, that was enough to put his life in harms way. Never coerced, never conscripted. Aubrey, and others like him, went voluntarily.
As was typical of his generation, talking about the war was a difficult task. It took years to unwind enough to share some of his stories. Who could have understood his pain? What insights would we have to offer to match such intimate experiences? There was no empathy to be proffered. There was no consoling to be tendered. Who could empathize? Who could possibly console? Only Aubrey’s God.
One such story began in June of 1917, when the HMCS Shearwater embarked on a four month voyage as a tender to two small Canadian submarines. From Esquimalt, BC, the trio made their way down the West Coast through the Panama Canal, the first Canadian warships ever to do so, and all the way back up the East Coast to Halifax. Arriving in October of 1917, the HMCS Shearwater was perfectly positioned to experience one of the most devastating incidents in the history of Canada and possibly the world, up to that point: the Halifax explosion.
The French SS Mont-Blanc, a cargo ship fully loaded with wartime munitions and the Norwegian SS Imo collided. A fire broke out on the SS Mont Blanc which could not be contained. The fire ignited the ammunition. The detonation was so immense that it vaporized the water beneath it, creating a void so large a tidal wave was born that razed what hadn’t already been blasted to shards. The most devastating man-made explosion in all of history, prior to nuclear weapons. Parts of the ship were found miles away. Shielded by an adjacent ship, the crew of the HMCS Shearwater survived. Can you imagine how a young man of sixteen felt, running through the streets of a no longer recognizable metropolis looking for survivors, seeing headless bodies hanging out of broken buildings, jumping over body parts and ruins unimaginable? Having survived physically, how does one now survive mentally?
We’ll never know, in mortality, what the likes of Aubrey Bissett endured. But, we can bow our heads and give them some respect; some sympathy, our thanks, our commitment to never forget!
King George V inaugurated the tradition of remembrance for fallen members of the military. The cumulation of a myriad of subsequent conflicts brought about a change in what was originally Armistice Day. It was determined that a new name would be more inclusive of all who sacrificed their lives for our freedom: Remembrance Day. Despite the new name, the promise to “Never Forget” remains the same. Although hostilities have raged, are raging, and will continue to rage, we are a blessed nation.
Above all, let us never forget that aspect of our freedom. In song, we pray: “God keep our land, Glorious and Free”. In French, we proclaim: “We are ready to wield the sword, steeped in faith, to protect our homes and our rights. And, in boldness we declare: We stand on guard for thee, O Canada!”
To the fallen - We thank you. From the bottom of our hearts and the very core of our souls - Thank you! To the survivors, we thank you. From the bottom of our hearts and the very core of our souls, thank you!
To our God, what thanks can we offer, but a broken heart, a contrite spirit, obedience, charity and a love for our fellow man. As the Psalmist said: “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Psalms 6:5) “Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.” (Psalms 75:1)