Canadian war heroes, achievements honoured at Remembrance Day ceremonies

From the parade to the cenotaph, to the sound of the bugle and the laying of wreaths, Canada's war heroes, soldiers, and military milestones were honoured during Remembrance Day services in Fort St. John on Saturday.

And while hundreds paid tribute and respect to those universal themes, residents were reminded their remembrance also takes on individual meanings on this day.

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"I don't know what goes through your mind, and what touches your heart today as you watch the parade, as you stand at the cenotaph, as you hear the bugle sound, as you see the wreaths being laid here in honour and remembrance. But, I am guessing that the image is different for each one of us," said Gord Klassen, who served as padre and master of ceremonies at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 102.

"Remembering means something a little different for you than it does for me. The impact and the personal response will also likely be unique to each one of us, depending on our circumstances."

Klassen used those opening remarks to highlight wartime stories that impacted and inspired him while preparing for this year's services, including the stories of decorated aboriginal war hero Sgt. Tommy Prince, Captain Nichola Goddard, and poet John McCrae.

Prince, who served in the Second World War, one time found himself in full view of German soldiers in a farm field in Italy, Klassen said. Prince was dressed as a civilian and desperately trying to reconnect telephone lines severed by shelling that let him continue spying on and reporting the enemy position and artillery emplacements.

Goddard was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2006, the first Canadian woman to be killed in a combat role, and one who wanted simply to be remembered as a good soldier, not a female soldier or the first of anything, said Klassen. 

McCrae, who wrote the famous wartime poem In Flanders Fields, was one of 45,000 Canadians who rushed to join the army when Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, telling a friend he was more afraid to stay at home with his conscience than face the horrors of war.

"As I read these stories, I was in awe of the boldness, the bravery, and the sacrifice of those in military service," Klassen said.

"I read again and again how they loved what they did, loved being a soldier, loved serving their country, and loved defending their values. And I was reminded of how important it is that we pause to remember these amazing men and women who have laid down their lives for us."

Before the service, hundreds huddled the streets clutching coffees and warm drinks as a parade moved past the legion and around city hall before finishing at the cenotaph where Legion member Mike King placed a wreath.

Back indoors, dignitaries took the time to note several anniversaries this year tied to Canada's military history, including the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and the 75th anniversary of the Alaska Highway.

"We owe a debt to our community members who were involved in that, and the indigenous people who helped us find the way," Mayor Lori Ackerman said of the highway, carved through Northeast B.C. to Alaska in 1942 as the Americans rushed to defend its Alaskan territory during the Second World War.

North Peace MLA and Major Dan Davies said the Battle of Vimy Ridge—where some 15,000 Canadian soldiers pushed back the Germans' best-defended position on the Western Front in northern France—is often argued as the birthplace of Canada as a nation, then still a member of the British Empire despite its confederation in 1867. 

Others, meanwhile, argue the battle wasn't the most important during the First World War, while others note the huge number of Canadian casualties and the divide that conscription created between English and French Canada, he said.

"So, why should an event that took place a century ago mean so much to us today?" Davies said.

"I think what matters most is that an entire generation was deeply affected by the war. Families from one end of the country to the other either lost someone, or knew someone who was either killed or horribly maimed physically or psychologically.

"All Canadians from coast to coast suffered and shared in these losses," Davies said.

An afternoon of games and entertainment continue at the Legion throughout the afternoon, followed by a turkey dinner and dance in the evening.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News


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