With their eyes closed and heads bowed, students from St. Albert’s Bertha Kennedy School, spent a minute in remembrance and prayer as they stood in the St. Albert Municipal Cemetery to pay homage to Canada’s military veterans. Twenty-three Grade 5 students along with their teacher Sean Brown, participated in the service.
Student Sarah Gapp read several passages aloud to the students, military personnel, parents, spectators and several World War II veterans who make their home in the city.
“This is the first time I ever did anything like this (speak at a public gathering) but I am happy to participate,” she said following a brief ceremony. She said her involvement in the November 6 event “has given me more appreciation for the service men and women who keep Canada safe.”
The students marched to the cemetery from their school to participate in a ceremony that is becoming very popular in Western Canada, laying poppies at the head of the gravestones of former soldiers, sailors and airmen.
Remembrance or Armistice Day as it was originally known, falls annually on the 11th day of the 11th month and corresponds with the surrender of German forces and the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. Until 2005 the once very popular annual ceremonies had diminished in attendance as more pressing modern-day issues demanded attention and action. But during the past decade and most noticeably since Canada’s role in Afghanistan and its continued service in other hotspots around the world, Canadians are once again hoisting the flag in large numbers as they pay tribute to the military veterans who have served or are currently serving to protect the freedoms we share by living in a democracy.
Recent attacks against Canadian servicemen, including two on Canadian soil, has sparked even greater interest and respect for members of the military. In fact, that pledge of allegiance has grown to recognize and honour firefighters and the men and women who participate as members of Canada’s various local, provincial and national policing agencies.
A new initiative was launched in 2011 by Mrs. Maureen Bianchini-Purvis as a way to recognize and honour the thousands of Canadian war veterans interred in cemeteries across the country. That initiative, known as “No Stone Left Alone” has become an important movement as the campaign garners continued support not only from provincial and federal organizations, but also from educators and schools who want to ensure their students are fully educated and aware of Canada’s past and the hardships our service men and women face when serving their country.
“It is an honour for us to be here today; this is the first time I’ve participated in this particular ceremony, though I have been at many others over the years,” explained Major Phil Joe, who along with Master Warrant Officer Paul Albertson, participated in the St. Albert ceremony.
Members of the army’s #1 Combat Engineer Regiment, Joe and Albertson are just two of the thousands of military personnel who are participating in events that honour their comrades-in-arms, while at the same time educating Canadians about the many roles they play both abroad and within Canada.
This is a special day, a unique experience for our students,” noted teacher Sean Brown. “It is important that the younger generation understand Canadian history and this is one way to help achieve that goal. This is the first time these kids have been to an event like this and they have all shown a keen interest in the poppy ceremony.”
Maureen Purvis was inspired by her own deceased parents, who both served for Canada in World War II. After placing a poppy on her grandparents’ headstones every Remembrance Day, she couldn’t help but notice that many soldiers’ headstones were without a poppy year after year. It became her mission; she wanted to one day see that all soldiers’ headstones would have a poppy placed in their honour.
The No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation is a non-profit organization working directly with the Royal Canadian Legion Alberta/NWT Command to help raise funds for veterans of Canada and their families. The Foundation’s goal “is to educate, respectfully remember, act and honour all soldiers’ headstones in November with the Legion symbol of remembrance, the poppy.
“It is our vision to expand this initiative nationally,” noted the Foundation. “Our goal is to create an increased awareness of the needs of veterans and serving soldiers by inspiring a new generation of Canadians who recognize and respect the sacrifices and service of all our Armed Forces.
For more information visit www.nostoneleftalone.ca.
by John Copley