The stamps that preserve our nation’s most powerful stories of courage and loss
Through its stamps, Canada Post has told, and continues to tell, the rich history of our country. In a single image, they can capture our nation’s most meaningful and heartfelt stories. They also pay tribute to our most powerful collective stories, the ones we honour for Remembrance Day when, despite their small size, they are able to reflect both the courage and loss of war.
“Remembrance Day is a day of sadness and grief, mixed with respect and pride,” says Dr. Tim Cook, First World War historian at the Canadian War Museum. “It was grounded in the terrible struggle of Canada’s Great War, but it has since taken on broader meanings of remembrance. It’s a day quite unlike any other.”
Poem: In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
Reader: Christopher Mallory
Music: Sarabande from Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor by J. S. Bach
No story evokes the spirit and emotion of remembrance more than “In Flanders Fields.”
Written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to commemorate the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, and the thousands of other soldiers who lost their lives in the Battle of Ypres in 1915, the poem is a simple but powerful lament that strikes a chord in Canadians to this day.
“It’s an incredibly powerful piece of writing,” says Jim Phillips, Canada Post’s Director of Stamp Services. “Beyond the literary value, the poem takes us right onto the battlefield. We are there, feeling the cold and loneliness of the soldiers and we feel their desire to be remembered – to not have their sacrifice be in vain.”
A different facet of Remembrance Day is depicted in the sculpture by Vernon March called The Response at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa.
Lest We Forget
Issue date: October 19, 2009
A close-up of that bronze artwork became the subject of a commemorative stamp that centred on the faces of two soldiers, emphasizing the human camaraderie of peacekeeping efforts.
“It’s a physical reminder that we can never forget what they gave for their country, not just on Remembrance Day but every day,” remarks Phillips.
Another of those unifying moments was the result of a moment frozen in time – a newspaper photograph taken in October 1940 dubbed “Wait for Me Daddy.”
Wait for Me Daddy
Issue date: October 4, 2014
The image of five-year-old Warren “Whitey” Bernard reaching out to his father – a soldier with the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles marching to a waiting ship – became not just one of the most famous Canadian photographs of the Second World War, but helped gain support on the home front by being used to sell government war bonds.
“That photograph put a uniquely human face on the horror of war,” says Phillips. “It speaks to the personal sacrifices of the men who left their homes and families to fight — and the hardships faced by loved ones left behind. The fear and confusion of that little boy, too young to really understand the consequences of war, is incredibly moving.”
The consequences of war were very much on the mind of Raoul Wallenberg in the 1940s.
Issue date: January 17, 2013
This Swedish man’s mission to save as many as 100,000 Jewish people in Budapest, Hungary, during the Second World War by passing out protective passports eventually led to him becoming Canada’s first honorary citizen in 1985.
While his name and posthumous honour may not be that familiar to most Canadians, his personal sacrifices speak to the same values that are part of so many Remembrance Day tributes across the country.
“He was most definitely a war hero without ever donning a uniform and his story can’t be forgotten,” says Phillips. “It speaks to the courage it takes to defy tyranny and the selflessness of those who chose to put their life on the line to keep others safe.”
Canada Post will continue to tell these important stories. Next year, it will mark with a new commemorative stamp the centennial of The Battle of Vimy Ridge, a defining moment of the First World War.
“The valour of our soldiers and our refusal as a nation to let their stories be forgotten is important to Canadians,” says Phillips. “And Canada Post reflects that importance in our stamps.”
Written by Toronto-based writer and producer, Steven Hunt.