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Canadian Sgt. Charles Cote walks past a field of poppies deep in southern Afghanistan's Panjwaii district on Sunday, April 17, 2011. (Colin Perkel)
Canadian Sgt. Charles Cote walks past a field of poppies deep in southern Afghanistan's Panjwaii district on Sunday, April 17, 2011. (Colin Perkel)

Reshaping remembrance

After Afghanistan, new ways of remembering Add to ...

Friday marks the first Remembrance Day since the end of this country’s decade-long combat mission in Afghanistan. More than 55,000 Canadians have served there since 2001, the largest deployment since the Korean War.

Nov. 11 is always an occasion for reflection, a sanctioned, sober time to consider who and what was lost in conflict. But this year presents a unique opportunity to take stock of how a new generation of veterans and their loved ones are reshaping the very notion of remembrance.

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Today, The Globe and Mail begins a conversation about how Canadians remember – a series of stories, fragments, photographs and documents submitted by veterans and their families. Together, they speak to the enduring, and evolving, nature of collective and personal memories.

For many of us, a veteran has always been a member of a different generation: a parent, grandparent or great-uncle. As their numbers dwindle, we increasingly remember their sacrifices through the stories, pictures and artifacts they leave behind. This week, our readers share some of these mementoes: a cloth postcard from a Cape Breton miner serving on the Western Front during the First World War; the diary of an Ontario soldier in post-D-Day France; a message home from a Winnipeg man held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese army, recorded on a crude cardboard disc.

Afghanistan veterans, by comparison, are younger. They are often our brothers and sisters, our friends, our cousins, our children. Our knowledge of their experiences comes from a more immediate memory. Today, you’ll hear from a combat engineer who has a special request for all of us on Nov. 11. Later this week, from one of the first and last Canadian soldiers to be injured in Afghanistan, and from an infantryman who still doesn’t think of himself as a veteran.

In the 1910s and 1940s, entire generations came of age in the crucible of war. After Afghanistan, these experiences belong to a small group of people, all veterans by choice.

But in listening to both, common threads emerge. There are anecdotes of camaraderie and loss at the front lines, tales of emotional homecomings and the difficulty of adapting to post-conflict life in one of the most peaceable countries in the world. Underpinning all of their stories, of course, is the pervasive determination that a soldier’s work should not be forgotten.

And in that spirit of permanence, we invite readers to continue the conversation at globeandmail.com in the weeks, months and years ahead, by sharing their acts of remembrance long after the poppies are put away.

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

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