back in 1993, i was bumbling my way through a degree in english lit at trent university and writing songs by the bucketful. some were good. some have long since (thankfully) been forgotten. a lot of them were topical and addressed what was going on in the world around me: the environment, politics, current events.
on november 10th of that year, i had remembrance day on the brain — as i do every year around this time. and this song popped out.
i don’t know that i set out to write a remembrance day song. as with any song that i have written, it started out with some strummed chords, some “la la la’s” and some humming. as with most of my songs, i improvised most of the words once i found a melody that worked and threw it to page immediately afterward. and while soldier song probably could have used a good edit, it was scrawled into my songbook after only 20 minutes or so of noodling. it went something like this:
onward brave young soldiers march
to the fate of your call
lifeblood sings within your veins
you pray that you don’t fall.
chorus: fight the war that holds you down
fight with valour and pride
wear the sword of testament
firmly at your side.
onward brave young soldiers fight
with the weight of your call
bullets scream and comrades cry
helpless as they fall
onward brave young soldiers come
to funerals earthy call
coffin-lined procession march
bears witness to us all
edit: the testament i was referring to had a combination of meanings: the first, simply, truth or witnessing. it also alludes to a covenant or pact — perhaps with god, but also with fellow soldiers, country, family, etc. there is also the notion of bequeathment: a passing of a gift in death. in this case, perhaps, freedom. the song, though, was hastily and sloppily written (much like this post), so it very well may have been a matter of the right number of syllables…
the next day, remembrance day, i was busking outside the liquor store on sherbrooke street — osap didn’t take you far in those days, nor, i suppose does it now. in the midst of my playing, i tried out soldier song. as i began, a car pulled up to the curb in front of me. an old chap sat in the passenger seat while a younger woman (younger than him, but old enough to be my mother) hopped out to go inside the store. the car windows were open, but the passenger was looking straight ahead.
i didn’t pay much mind, but just played my song.
when the woman came out, she opened the driver’s side door and was about to get in. she paused. then she turned and walked towards me.
“i think he has something to say to you,” she said, motioning to the gent in the car.
i walked over to his window. but instead of speaking, the old fellow just passed a folded five dollar bill, nodded a thanks to me, and then turned away.
it was then that i saw the uniform. the medals.
before i could muster anything intelligent to say, the car drove away. i was left dumbfounded, guitar hanging from my shoulder, fiver in my hand.
and i felt like an ass.
here i was, five bucks the richer, thanked by a man who probably deserved more thanks than a university kid could ever conceive. more thanks than any of us who have never experienced war could ever conceive.
the five dollars, and, in fact, all of the money in my guitar case, got dumped into a poppy box later that day.
another 5 bucks has gone into poppy boxes every year since.
thank’s old fella. and thank you to all of your comrades.
i’ll be thinking of you around 11 o’clock.