TORONTO — They are the last ones standing. Few remaining veterans of the Second World War will be among the crowds at this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, and those dwindling numbers appear to be one of the reasons more Canadians plan on attending commemorative events on Monday.
“Even the youngest of those who served in World War Two, 75 or 76 years ago, are now in their mid-90s,” says Anthony Wilson-Smith, CEO of Historica Canada, which commissioned a poll finding 41 per cent of Canadians plan to attend Remembrance Day ceremonies this Nov. 11, up two per cent compared to last year and 14 per cent from 2016.
“The number of those people who served, who used to be so common in every community, is now really diminishing and the day is coming soon when they won’t be with us. I think Canadians collectively feel this is our time to say thank you and pay respect.”
Wilson-Smith says the farther we get from a major world war, the more we see a rise in appreciation for those who served.
Meanwhile, a Remembrance Day poll from the Angus Reid Institute suggests only three-in-10 Canadians recall a conversation with a First World War veteran about their experiences while seven-in-10 have heard World War Two stories from vets.
“The study also finds the passage of time since the World Wars also means oral history of veterans’ experiences, passed down through the generations, is increasingly lost,” says executive director Shachi Kurl.
Angus Reid also finds 80 per cent of us think Canada should do more to honour those who have served in the Armed Forces.
But it’s not just about thanking veterans, the poll suggests; it’s also about learning from them. The vast majority of survey respondents — 94 per cent — agreed that hearing veterans speak about their experiences is the best way for young people to understand conflict, and 80 per cent said they had heard a veteran tell their story.
That personal element can be very powerful, Wilson-Smith said.
“If you’re, for example, in your 20s or 30s, you do have that feeling of ‘there but for the grace of timing go I,'” he says. “In other words, if I’d been this age 10 or 15 years ago (for the Afghanistan War) or if I’d have been that age 75 years ago for World War II or even World War I, that could have been me out there.”
Ipsos conducted the online poll between Oct. 21 and 24, surveying 1,000 Canadians. The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.
With files from the Canadian Press