Windsor’s Table Of Honor

January 1, 1998 by Legion Magazine


by Tom MacGregor

A bitter chill blew off the Detroit River as Legionnaires prepared to march to the Essex County War Memorial for the annual ceremony of remembrance in Windsor, Ont. The place where the Legionnaires gathered was Dieppe Gardens, a narrow waterfront park in the city’s downtown, across from the Detroit skyline.

“Dieppe means a lot to Windsor,” says Ontario Command’s Zone A-1 Commander Bill Smith while driving between various remembrance events in the zone. “It was our boys who got the worst of it.”

The reference is to the Essex Scottish, the Windsor-area militia unit now known as the Essex and Kent Scottish. The unit was assigned to Red Beach, the eastern flank of the disastrous 1942 raid by mostly Canadian forces on the main beach of the French town. Twenty minutes after landing, the regiment had broken through two barbed wire fences but was pinned against a concrete sea-wall and had lost approximately 40 per cent of its strength. Casualties reached 75 per cent by the first hour. Many were taken as prisoners of war.

Though events planned by the 10 branches in Zone A-1 for Veterans Week are in tribute to all Canadians who have made wartime sacrifices, thoughts of Dieppe never seemed far away. Recently, the 55th anniversary of the raid was celebrated by a pilgrimage led by Veterans Affairs Minister Fred Mifflin (Pilgrimage To Dieppe, November/December). Awareness was also heightened by a disagreement between Legionnaires and the city on the use of the park.

“We feel that Dieppe Gardens is a special place, one that should be left as a memorial and not be used for all kinds of festivals,” says Smith. There has been a buskers festival, attracting street performers and musicians to vie for space along the walkways. One performer even draped one of the memorials with a table-cloth as part of his performance. Craft fairs and other events have also been held in the parking lot attracting crowds that overflow on the grass. “They are damaging the park and there has been vandalism,” adds Smith. The Legion has met with Mayor Mike Hurst and other city officials. Over the summer it circulated a petition to make its views known.

One of the vandals’ targets in Dieppe Gardens was the small but elegant Silver Cross Women’s Memorial that was originally erected in 1959 by the Windsor chapter of the Remembrance Association of Silver Cross Women of Canada and dedicated during a visit by the Queen. It has been restored by the local branch of the Air Force Association of Canada and others. Before the parade started it was re-dedicated in a simple ceremony with Air Force Association Wing 412 President Helen Roper placing a wreath.

That ceremony over, the participants found their places in the parade as it was about to depart. The weather, and the fact that the ceremony was held on Sunday, Nov. 9 instead of Nov. 11, brought out a good crowd in the city of 199,000. Windsor is home to several large industries and so shift work is the norm and attracting crowds for weekday events is difficult. “We have been doing our big ceremony on the Sunday closest to Nov. 11 for a long time,” says Smith. “If we didn’t we wouldn’t get the cadets.”

Five different army cadet corps as well as sea and air cadets participated in the parade. Joining them were the Windsor Military Band and the local reserve units, the Essex and Kent Scottish, the Windsor Regiment, 21 Service Battalion and HMCS Hunter. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police sent a contingent dressed in scarlet for the first time in several years. The Legionnaires were from all of Windsor’s branches as well as LaSalle and Tecumseh. They were joined by members of Down River Post, The Royal Canadian Legion post in Dearborn, Mich., and various other veterans groups, including the Air Force Association, the Korea Veterans Association of Canada and Vietnam veterans association marching in combat fatigues and carrying the black missing-in-action flag.

By the time the parade arrived at the Essex County War Memorial, a 106-ton granite memorial built in 1924, estimates of the crowd strength reached 2,000.

In his address, Commander Stan Fraser, padre of HMCS Hunter, noted: “Perhaps you might see two elderly women standing next to each other. One is clutching military medals and the other an old framed photograph of a young man in uniform. Both have tears running down their cheeks as they watch the ceremony. These women had a brother who had gone off to Europe in 1940 and never returned home. They come each year to this ceremony to remind him that he is not forgotten. This, I am sure, reminds us that no one is left unchanged by war. The horror Canadians faced at home was of a different kind, where people would hope the telegraph boy would not show up at their door. Unfortunately, more than 100,000 such telegrams did arrive during the two great wars.”

Greetings were brought by federal and Ontario governments and municipalities of Windsor, Tecumseh and LaSalle. Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray, the MP for Windsor West, reminded the crowd that more than 100 Canadian Forces members have been killed on peacekeeping missions.

Following a march past, the parade was dismissed at Dieppe Gardens and participants headed to the various branches to warm up and renew acquaintances. This was a zone event with no one branch taking the lead. Each branch also had its own ceremony, either at a local cenotaph or in the branch, often at a banquet.

Legionnaire Ed McDowell, the president of Windsor RCAF Branch in LaSalle, was the 1997 remembrance chairman. Once the zone service was over on Sunday, he concentrated on a smaller service he organized for Nov. 11 at the war memorial outside LaSalle city hall. Hampering him was the two-week-old illegal strike by Ontario teachers. It was only during the weekend that the last of the teachers’ unions agreed to go back to work. McDowell didn’t know until the last minute whether he would have the Sandwich Secondary School Band or wreaths placed by students as in the past.

The teachers went back to work that Monday. On Tuesday the band was there playing a blues-like rendition of O Canada. Representatives from three area schools placed wreaths, including one made out of paper poppies by elementary school students.

Fraser was once again tasked with giving the address. “When you see a veteran wearing his or her medals they do it with pride. They do this because they are proud that they stood up for their country and the peace which we as Canadians now enjoy. During these days of the 1990s we are seeing many of our veterans pass on. What happens to the medals they wore with pride and respect? Many families treasure these as part of their family’s and part of Canada’s history.”

Fraser went on to use the recent purchase of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s medals by Toronto businessman Arthur Lee who then gave them to the McCrae House museum in Guelph as an example of a Canadian showing respect for the commitment represented by the medals.

Ambassador Branch held its banquet with Ontario Command Vice-President John Alger as guest speaker on the Saturday before the main service. As Alger spoke of his childhood memories of WW II, he mentioned the pain of news that a loved one had been killed or injured or taken prisoner of war. That reference brought a tear to the eye of branch life member Irv Snyder who removed his glasses and placed them on the table. A member of the Essex Scottish, he was on that beach in Dieppe. He remembers watching his comrades in the Calgary Tanks spinning their steel treads on the shale along the beach. “They were trying to blow holes in the defences but it was solid. It was like picking your teeth. We couldn’t do anything.” Soon the group found itself being held at gunpoint with nothing to do but surrender. Of the 34 men in his platoon only four were able to walk out.

The next three years saw Snyder moving around to various prison camps. “Because I was the senior officer and I had given my word that I would not personally escape I was given a certain amount of freedom of movement. Of course my real job was to help the others escape. I would make the guys tell me their plans. I wanted to make sure that this was not some fly-by-night operation. I would help them make sure they had a plan that worked.”

On the Sunday night Riverside Branch held its banquet with one of the most moving of the week’s many services. A single spotlight focused on a table set for four. On the table were four plates, each with a rose, a slice of lemon and an overturned wine glass. On the table are four caps, representing the navy, army, air force and merchant navy. This, President Dennis Holmes told the audience, was the Table of Honor. “This table is set with four military head-dresses to symbolize the navy, the army, the air force and the merchant marine–each equally important for their dedication and bravery to get the job done. The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their intention to respond to the call of their country. Four roses remind us of the families and loved ones of our comrades who are gone, never to return. The slices of lemon tell us of their bitter fate. The salt (is) a symbol of the grief and tears of the family and friends. The glasses inverted–they cannot toast with us tonight.”

He concluded: “Four chairs, the chairs are empty. We will remember.”

The caps for the navy, air force and merchant navy were the standard issue caps for the branch. The army cap, appropriately, was from the Essex Scottish.

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