It was the first time 91-year-old Arthur Dewar of London, Ont., had worn his medals, and the first time he had attended the national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa. No one had ever shaken his hand or thanked him for his wartime service until today. And the first one to do so was the Prince of Wales.
“He thanked me. Oh my, I don’t think I have the proper words for it,” said Dewar, who served with the 43rd General Transport Company during the Second World War campaigns in Sicily and Italy, and in northern Europe at the end of the war.
At the end of the national ceremony Dewar was among a dozen veterans greeted by dignitaries, including Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. Others included John Sheardown of Ottawa, a Second World War pilot in 429 Squadron. “I’m a member of the Caterpillar Club,” he said, “having saved my life by parachute after we got shot up.” There too was double-leg amputee Master Corporal Paul Franklin of Edmonton and his family, including 10-year-old son Simon. Franklin was injured in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in 2006. And Ron Wills, a 60-year member of Galt Branch in Cambridge, Ont., who comes every year to remember many comrades lost during his service with the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards in Europe during the Second World War.
The 90th national Remembrance Day ceremony was solemn and dignified, comforting in its familiarity. But it was also a day of firsts—the first attendance of Prince Charles and the first time Governor General Michaëlle Jean, commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces, attended the ceremony wearing the green army dress uniform.
Under a brilliant sky, with the sun slowly taking the chill from the air, a record-breaking crowd, which organizers estimated at 55,000, applauded dignitaries as they arrived, but reserved the loudest applause for Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother Della Marie Morley of East Saint Paul, Man. Her son, Corporal Keith Ian Morley, 30, of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, was killed along with three colleagues by a suicide bicycle bomber in Afghanistan on Sept. 18, 2006.
All eyes faced inward, toward the National War Memorial where throughout the ceremony five sentries representing the army, navy, air force, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Nursing Sisters stood guard, heads lowered with arms reverse. The final notes of the Last Post had just begun to fade when the first boom of a 21-gun salute thundered out and the sombre tolling of the clock in the Peace Tower marked the beginning of the silent vigil. The silence ended with a second howitzer boom followed by the lament and rouse.
Pausing for the honorary flypast of four CF-18 Hornets from 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron of CFB Bagotville, Que., Dominion President Wilf Edmond read the Act of Remembrance which was repeated in French by Dominion Honorary Grand President and retired general Charles Belzile, and in Cree by Captain Catherine Askew, a serving padre in the Canadian Forces.
Brigadier-General Reverend David Kettle, Chaplain General to the Canadian Forces, prayed for those who served in “terrible times of great conflict,” for serving members of the armed forces for whom such suffering and pain is not memory, but living reality and for those killed in Afghanistan and their families “who live each day with an empty seat at the table.”
As the sweet voices of the Ottawa Children’s Choir swelled with the words of In Flanders Fields, the viceregal party placed wreaths before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, first the Governor General, followed by Prince Charles. The Silver Cross Mother placed her wreath on behalf of all mothers who have lost sons or daughters in service to their country. Next came Prime Minister Stephen Harper; the Speaker of the Senate, Noël A. Kinsella; the Speaker of the House, Peter Milliken; Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson and Chief of Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk.
Placing a wreath on behalf of the youth of Canada were the senior winners of the Legion’s literary and poster contests, namely colour poster winner Sam Loewen, 18, of Lethbridge, Alta.; black and white poster winner Natalie Lloyd, 18, of Guelph, Ont.; essay winner Stephanie Adams, 17, of Newport, N.S.; and poetry winner Hailey Cervo, 17, of Nobleford, Alta.
Recipients of the Legion Cadet of the Year awards served among the wreath bearers, including sea cadet Petty Officer First Class Anastasia Burtnick of Winnipeg; army cadet Warrant Officer Maxime Charron of Victoriaville, Que.; and air cadet Flight Sergeant Jonah Todd of Whitehorse, Yukon.
Dominion President Edmond placed a wreath on behalf of The Royal Canadian Legion, followed by dozens of wreaths placed by representatives from the diplomatic corps, dignitaries, veterans groups and other organizations.
These acts of remembrance are “our sacred trust…our unshakable, perpetual obligation,” explained Rabbi Reuven Bulka, Honorary Chaplain of Dominion Command in the benediction. “When we look at our veterans we are looking at the very best of Canada….Those who went to war on our behalf, putting their lives on hold and at risk in order to eliminate tyranny, defend liberty and promote freedom, they are world-class heroes [who] deserve to be celebrated, extolled, embraced, thanked, venerated and applauded.
“May those who die be remembered lovingly. May those who were injured be healed in body and spirit. May those who served and continue to serve be able to live out their lives in a world free of terror and suffused with tranquility,” Bulka continued. “We who ride on the coattails of our heroes can best show our gratitude by standing up for the values they continue to defend, by nurturing in Canada an enveloping culture of respect, of harmony, of inclusion; a great country worthy of their great sacrifice.”
After the service, the viceregal party greeted veterans and made its way to Wellington Street just north of the National War Memorial. There they viewed the parade of veterans, Canadian Forces, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and cadets. Then, amid fond cheers, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were whisked away by limousine.
At that, an hour after the beginning of the official ceremony, the barricades were opened to allow tens of thousands of observers to access the memorial. Some wait patiently and respectfully for more than an hour for their turn to place a poppy or personal wreath or memento on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Some come to honour those who are serving, others in remembrance of those who served and sacrificed and still others to give thanks for their freedom.
Among them are Shirley Monkhouse and Mary Stuart, a pair of friends from Kanata, Ont., carrying bouquets and mementoes. “I lost my uncle Francis Hunter Dupont in April,” said Monkhouse. “This is in honour of him.” Dupont, of Ottawa, was a D-Day veteran. Stuart is here in honour of her father who left to serve overseas in 1939 when her sister was a baby, and didn’t return until his daughter was six years old. Since she was too young to read, his letters home to her were drawings.
Retired friends Dave Conkin and Betty Woods of Winnipeg came to fulfil a dream. Woods fights back tears remembering her father, who reluctantly remained behind as his friends marched off to war. One, a Hong Kong veteran, was never the same. “My dad had to go calm him down because he had these horrible reoccurrences.”
“I’ve been coming (to the national ceremony) for years,” added Douglas Lapierre of Hull, Que. His grandfathers served at Passchendaele, the Somme and elsewhere in France. But he’s also here to honour members of today’s Canadian Forces for continuing to preserve Canada’s freedom. “More guys have just been killed in Afghanistan. It’s a time of sadness but also a time to celebrate their lives and what we have (due to their sacrifice).”
For Adam Mackenzie of Behchoko, N.W.T., this was not only his first trip to the national ceremony, but the first time at any Remembrance Day ceremony. “I just didn’t go before,” he said. “But now I will definitely go.”
Service, sacrifice and remembrance were values much discussed by participants in the days of preparation leading up to the ceremony. Indeed, honouring sacrifice was the theme Edmond discussed in the ceremony that introduced the Silver Cross Mother at Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery on the Monday before Remembrance Day. “The presence of the Silver Cross Mother… representing all mothers in Canada, past and present, who have given their sons and daughters in the cause of freedom,” is a mainstay of the national ceremony, he said.
“Our children are our heroes,” Morley said the next day, following a visit to the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower of the Parliament Building where she had seen her son’s name in the Book of Remembrance and had been presented with a framed copy of the page. With her was her family, including daughter Shannon and grandson Keith Cole McCaffrey who was born seven months after Corporal Morley’s death and named in honour of his uncle.
Her son and the others who have served and continue to serve do “so that the enemy does not come to us,” she said. “I’ve spoken to other families who have lost a child, and we’re all proud and look at our children as heroes.
“I would like people to remember my son as an ordinary Canadian, and a hero,” she said. Recently she was heartened while visiting the online memory page in honour of her son. There was a posting from a young man named Nathaniel. “I don’t know what age he would be, but he said; ‘I am researching your life.’” She is proud of her son’s legacy. “My son has gone on to inspire other young men and women.”
Service, sacrifice and remembrance are hallmark Canadian values, said Legion Dominion Secretary Brad White at a luncheon Tuesday in honour of the Silver Cross mother, cadets and students. “Service is not an issue that’s talked about anymore,” he said. “People don’t talk about serving their country, serving their community, serving their fellow human being.” But it is a value tying together the different generations, represented in the room, the veterans who saw war service, those who served through the Cold War and peacekeeping operations, those serving now and youth representatives, the generation of “hope and innocence.”
“We serve those who served,” he said, and “are proud to recognize the sacrifices made on our behalf.”
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