When I went to Remembrance Day ceremonies at Queen’s Park in Toronto this morning, I was happy to see so many people present. As ever, it was a solemn occasion blessed with sunlight and crisp autumn air. The bugle sang out sadly and when it stopped, four artillery cannons commenced firing. The sound of just one of those cannons going off was shocking to say the least and I tried to imagine, in vain, what it must have been like for any soldier when there were literally hundreds of those things going off. For troops to push on to the next trench, or take a hill, with cannons thundering all around, well, it must have taken a rare form of courage.
|D-Day Invasion - Normandy|
As far as historical battles go, the Battle at Thermopylae (480 B.C.) stands out over the ages as the true measure courage and sacrifice. When the Persian king, Xerxes invaded Greece he was met at the narrow pass of Thermopylae by 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians. The Greek forces delayed the Persians long enough for the rest of Greece to rally its forces – they all perished. For a good novel about this conflict, check out Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield.
|Monument to the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae|
If you are looking for a pivotal war in the Roman period, there are several to choose from, but the one that stands out for me because of a trilogy of novels is the second Punic War against none other than Hannibal. Carthage was dealt a humiliating blow by Rome at the end of the first Punic War and there was much hatred on both sides. Hannibal met his match in the person of Scipio Africanus on the plain of Zama (206 B.C.), in modern day Tunisia. The trilogy of books (Hannibal; Scipio; and Carthage) by Ross Leckie is an excellent read that I highly recommend. He manages to make us sympathetic to both sides of the conflict and a most interesting way.
Those are just a few recommended reads from me. I don’t really have any that deal with the wars of our modern age to suggest. When it comes to reminding myself of the World Wars, for example, I turn to films like Patton, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line or The Guns of Navarone. Even Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, based on the book by Louis de Bernières is a great film that sheds light on a bit of little-known history of the war on the Greek island of Cephalonia. Everyone has their favourites.
So, today, I raise my cup to the fallen heroes of the past and present. To my grandfathers and grandmothers who suffered and fought through the World Wars, to my cousin who lost her brave husband so recently in Kandahar, one of the cities founded by Alexander himself.
To the glorious Dead, thank you, now and always….
|Normandy Graveyard for American Troops|
|Memorial at Thermopylae|