The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Ottawa, Canada. Image Source: Globe and Mail.
In the Commonwealth and elsewhere, Remembrance Day or Armistice Day marks the moment when fighting stopped at the end of the First World War. The day now also commemorates the dead of the Second World War and subsequent wars. More recent conflicts have inspired the invention of brand new memorial 'traditions.' This is one way that conflict reclaims the past in the present time.
Retired Brigadier-General Ian Douglas believes that new conflicts revived Canadians' interest in the military and led to the creation of new traditions such as the Highway of Heroes. Image Source: National Post.
In Canada, there are two examples of new traditions emerging from Millennial conflicts. In 2000, a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was added to the National War Memorial in Ottawa. In the 2000 Remembrance Day ceremony, members of the public spontaneously left their poppies on his tomb. They now do this at the end of Remembrance Day ceremonies every year, and they leave flags on his grave on Canada Day.
In August 2007, a section of Highway 401, the busiest highway in North America, which runs from the armed forces base CFB Trenton to Toronto, was designated the 'Highway of Heroes.' Along this busy stretch, the road is cleared when war dead are repatriated. A spontaneous practice has become regular in all weathers to treat military funerals as public events. Civilians, the police, the fire service, and the armed forces pay tribute to passing cortèges of fallen military personnel returned from Afghanistan. In 2011, British Columbia similarly designated a stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway near Vancouver as another 'highway of heroes.'
This new Canadian custom attracted the attention of the American media and British press. The Canadian grassroots development is different from Australian and New Zealand military memorial services, which in 2012 were followed by private funerals. The Canadian example is also distinct from the American practice of commemorating US Iraq and Afghanistan war dead online, while keeping military funerals in private. The American practice arose through a government policy passed in 1991, which imposed a media blackout on repatriations. After 2009, the blackout was overturned, and permission to report on repatriation ceremonies at Dover Air Force Base and subsequent funerals was left to the discretion of bereaved families. While local communities were plainly involved in many American military funerals prior to 2009, media reporting on these events may spark greater public awareness. Then again, in the UK, intensified press coverage of repatriations provoked critics in 2009.
Nonetheless, popular interest in repatriation ceremonies and in honours for the military's dead is growing. In the United States, whole towns have participated in military funerals in Massachusetts (see here, here, here); in Florida (see here and here); in Brown County, Indiana; and in Girard, Kansas - to name a few. In Britain in 2011, the town of Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire received a royal title for local efforts to honour Millennial war dead (see video here), until repatriations were moved to RAF Brize Norton. Spontaneous public support for repatriations has recently occurred in Oxfordshire UK. In late 2012, the Daily Mail borrowed the Canadian term and described a 'Highway for Heroes' in Carterton, Oxfordshire.
New public memorial traditions, Toronto area, Canada, since 2007. Video Source: Youtube.
American MSNBC report, 11 November 2008. Video Source: Youtube.