On Remembrance Day, Canadians will rightfully take the time to pay respect to those who gave their lives fighting in the two world wars, the Korean War and in service in Afghanistan. These brave men and women and their sacrifices deserve never to be forgotten. But, sadly, there are others who gave similar service and should merit similar respect, but who increasingly are in danger of fading into obscurity.
Canadian veterans of the Boer War, which occurred more than a century ago, are sometimes forgotten during Remembrance Day. Here in Invermere, there was once a plaque in the cenotaph park honouring the six East Kootenay soldiers killed in that war; however, the plaque has gone missing. Although the war was long ago and none are left who experienced it, it is sad to think the plaque is likely sitting somewhere in a box instead of on proper, dignified display in a fitting civic space.
The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (or Mac Paps) in the Spanish Civil War (1937-1939) was comprised mainly of Canadians who volunteered to help the democratically elected Spanish government fight against the Hitler- and Mussolini-backed fascist rebellion led by Spanish general Francisco Franco. More than 1,500 Canadians served for the Republican (Spanish government) side in the Spanish Civil War and at least 400 lost their lives or went missing there.
However, respecting the veterans of this conflict remains controversial, even to this day. The elected Spanish government was left-leaning and, although not communist, received support from the Soviet Union, which tainted the Republican cause with a socialist smear in the minds of some. Then-prime minister Mackenzie King and the Canadian government quickly made it illegal to enlist in the Spanish Civil War, possibly because of the leftist associations, but also possibly as a vote-getting technique.
As a result, when the Mac Paps came home, they were not honoured in any way — indeed they were treated with suspicion, tracked by the RCMP, had difficulty enlisting in subsequent military services and are not included in the Book of Remembrance in the Peace Tower. It was only in 2001 that they were finally honoured with a monument in Ottawa.
All this seems shameful given that the Mac Paps fought against the same Nazi and same fascist Italian forces that Canada would officially fight in the Second World War just a few short years later. And the socialist smear? It was the same Soviets backing the Republicans that Canada and other Allies joined forces with a few years later in the Second World War.
Also deserving of equal honour on Remembrance Day should be the more than 100 Canadians who have lost their lives while on United Nations or NATO peacekeeping missions around the world. These men and women quite literally uphold the peace — something that merits special recognition.
So, next Monday, be sure to take a moment of silence to remember those who have sacrificed their lives overseas — all of them.
Steve Hubrecht is a reporter for The Valley Echo and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org