Royal Canadian Legion representatives salute after placing wreath of Remembrance at St. Thomas Cenotaph at service to kick off 2018 poppy campaign.
I t was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.And St. Thomas celebrated the Armistice. Big time. The end of the Great War between Great Britain and Germany, and their allies, was observed in the city with what the Times-Journal reported – with no little emotion – was the greatest celebration in the history of the community: “Victory! Victory! “The air reverberated with the potency of the words today that were on the mouths of the 40,000 joyous celebrants who thronged every street and corner of the old city: The monstrous parade ordered by Mayor Horton which left the Horton market square at 1:30 p.m., was a perfect success in every way – a wonderful pageant of color and noise.
“The entire victory parade was over two miles in length. So long was it that when the head of the parade led by Mayor Horton and the aldermen of the city, reached the city hall after a circuitous march, the tail end of the great cavalcade was just passing the municipal building.”
Many years and many battles later, Armistice Day now is Remembrance Day, and observations are solemn.
For Rev. Canon Nick Wells, who is padre of Royal Canadian Legion Lord Elgin Branch 41, and who will officiate at the Service of Remembrance on Nov. 11 in St. Thomas at the Veterans’ Memorial Garden, Remembrance Day is a national funeral.
“To me, it’s a national funeral where we get to remember all of the dead. Not just those who served in the army, navy and air force, but all those who not only survived the war, but those who have died over the last year.”
And he says remembering them is a duty Canadians owe them.
“We have to remember,” the Anglican priest says.
We owe it to them. They gave up their lives for us and we didn’t deserve that. We really didn’t.
“It’s an incredible gift that has been given to us. And when a gift like that has been given to us, you always have to say thank you – and we get so say thank you by being there.”
Though it isn’t the focus of the 2018 service, the day will salute the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, nonetheless.
Shelly Haycock, past Branch 41 president and current public relations officer, says, “We wanted to do it in a nice, simple manner.”
Four military re-enactors in period uniform are to form a guard of honour at the Cenotaph, each standing on a corner of the monument, heads bowed, hands crossed on the butts of their downturned rifles.
Later, they will fire a three-volley salute of mourning. “That’s always a sign of mourning,”Wells says. “You fire that over the grave of the dead.” While it holds no body, the Cenotaph is consecrated as a tomb.
Wells, a military re-enactor himself, is to dress in period uniform as a Great War padre.
And Haycock, who is mistress of ceremonies for the day, is to don the uniform of a Volunteer Aid Detachment civilian, in tribute to the women who served in the Great War. The VADs provided vital support, from cooks and canteen workers, clerks and drivers, and untrained nurses.
Haycock says women in the Great War often are overlooked.
“I don’t think we associate them as much as we do our men who went overseas in battle.”
The service is to begin at 10:45 at the memorial garden on Moore St.
Haycook expects dignitaries are to place about 50 official wreaths in honour of Canada’s warriors.
At the conclusion of the 2017 service, many onlookers unpinned their individual poppies and left them in tribute, as well.
“It was quite an experience last year after the service was done,” Haycock says.
“There always have been a few but not like last year. It was quite a sight to see all those poppies there.”
She says there is increased awareness of Canada at arms.
“I think the younger generation now have family and friends going overseas.”
Afterward, participants are to gather for fellowship, as they do every year, at the Legion on John St. Bob Finlay is to entertain.
They likely will not have to heed the words of Mayor Horton 100 years ago to his audience, as reported in the Times-Journal:
“In concluding the afternoon celebrations, Mayor Horton told the vast crowd that the city was theirs for the afternoon and all he asked was that they be careful and not burn it down or damage it beyond repair.
“‘It is ‘The Day’ we have been waiting for and praying for and fighting for these last four and a half years,’ declared his worship. ‘And I am not going to stop you celebrating now. I realize your joy, and I want you to give full vent to it.’”