An enormous toll
By Chad Ingram
On Monday, in front of the cenotaph at the Village Green in Minden, residents will gather for a solemn, annual tradition.
Members of the Minden Legion’s Colour Party will march in the flags. An address will be given. Community leaders and organizations and residents will lay wreaths at the foot of the cenotaph in honour of those who perished in war. The Last Post will play.
Similar ceremonies will unfold in villages and towns and cities across the expanse of the country, thousands of communities, Canadians collectively pausing to reflect on the country’s role in international conflicts, on the scope of loss those conflicts have brought.
And while Remembrance Day has grown to encapsulate remembrance of the sacrifice involved in all conflicts, it’s of course often the two World Wars that come to mind. Remembrance Day itself grew out of Armistice Day, which was first held throughout the British Commonwealth in 1919, and marked the official end of the First World War with an agreement signed on Nov. 11, 1918 at 11 a.m.
Just more than 20 years later, international conflict would again erupt, in a scope so wide-reaching that it physically devastated vast swaths of the planet, its implications reaching everywhere. It’s estimated that as many as 85 million people died in the Second World War, about four times as many as in the First World War, or about three per cent of all people on the earth at the time.
The implications of that are so vast that they are difficult to truly fathom, particularly for those of us with no memory of the war, which is most of us now living.
An estimated 45,000 Canadians lost their lives in the Second World War, itself a staggering number, but it pales in comparison to the death tolls in places where the war was actually fought.
It’s estimated that 20 million Chinese lost their lives. In terms of the country that lost the greatest percentage of its population, some 2.2 million people died in Belarus, equating to more than a quarter of the country’s population at the time. In Poland, nearly six million people, in Ukraine, nearly seven million. Throughout the rest of the USSR, it’s estimated that more than 16.8 million died. Nine million in Germany, more than three million in Japan. More than half a million people in France, and slightly less than half a million in Italy and the United Kingdom, respectively, not to mention the lives of more than 400,000 American troops.
It’s staggering to think about, and the reason why, somewhere along the line, nearly every single one of our families was affected.