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Memories of Remembrance Day 1994 – A Special Day.

Here I am, back at the National War Memorial with Dad, Stan Connor and his son, Paul. The skies are clearing, and as we wait the sun is warm on our backs and takes away the chill. There is a large crowd today, many of them up on the side of the hill near the East Block. As we stand on the west side of the memorial, in the crush of the other wreath bearers, I notice there are a lot of students behind us, pressed against the crowd control barriers. It is always heart warming to see them and so many others turn out for the event. It is so important to remember.

I went downtown by bus today. I got off about 10:20, just in time to see the soldiers marching up Elgin Street. The traffic was stopped to let them pass. I had to circle around the Memorial to find a way to get through the crowd barriers. I found Dad, Stan and Paul in the usual spot.

Both Dad and Stan liked the wreath this year. The type on the banner was easier to read - more spread out. They always seem to take pride in their wreath. They want it to look nice and to be visible after it has been placed on the steps surrounding the Memorial.

I always enjoy scanning the crowd to see who I can recognize. It is always easy to pick out Olvide Mercredi. He is wearing his large headdress again this year. I also notice another gentleman in a green uniform. He has a plume on his hat. There are a couple of others wearing their original WWI army uniforms. One of them is using a cane. He stands proudly. He looks marvellous. There is another with several medals. Stan noted that some of them were POW, while another was the Flying Cross.

I see some Navy vets with an old, tattered Union Jack. It probably came from some ship.

As we bide our time, waiting for the ceremony to begin, there is discussion about the ranks and stripes of the various soldiers: sub-lieutenant, captain, pilot's wings. It comes out that Dad only had one wing, indicating air crew. The circle from which the wing came had letters for the position - AG=air gunner, FE=flight engineer, N=navigator.

A nearby RCMP officer comes to our attention. I hear about the meaning of the various parts of his uniform insignia - rifle, handgun, star for each five years of service, rank. Stan seems to be fascinated with the medals and badges. Paul seems to up on the subject too. I feel very ignorant.

The ceremony proceeds as usual. The Governor-General arrives and walks between the honour guard with their flags. The OBE choir is on hand, accompanied by the band (great music!). The silver cross mother, Mrs. Wilhelmina Baerr, is 102 years old. She walked up and placed the wreath herself. Sheila Copps is subbing for the PM today. It is also the first year for the merchant marine corps to lay a wreath as part of the official party. The honour is performed by Robert K. Rae. (I think about my uncles down east who sailed with the Merchant Navy. I also recall the injustice, in my mind, of them not receiving recognition for what they did.) The Minister of State (Veterans) MacAulay would join us later in the day.

I found the rabbi's remarks to be very poignant. He spoke of unity in war, why not unity in peace. I listened hard to the prayers, trying to appreciate their meaning and emotion.

The piper today looked magnificent - pennant hanging from the pipes, huge headdress. I thought about the historical perspective, where the pipers were used in Scotland to put fear into the enemy.

My thoughts are broken by the sound of the field cannon - sharp and clear. The first report startled someone behind us. I start to feel the emotions rise and the tears form in my eyes.

Soon it is time for Dad and Stan to lay their wreath. They look very dignified. Their salute was smart. It brings an overwhelming sense of pride to me.

We start to get chilled as the sun has been blocked by a new building erected to the west of the square. I strain to see if I can spot Courtney from Angela's Ranger unit, but I missed them. I was able to see the Guides Canada wreath, though. I spot a wreath from the Vietnam Veterans. I also see one of the First Nations people go up with his wreath, a small boy at his side.

As the crowd moves towards the reviewing stand for the march-past, I stay behind to take some pictures of the CNAG wreath. Unfortunately, I missed part of the veteran's march-past. It is one of my favourite parts of the ceremony. I love to see and hear the crowd applauding and shouting their thanks. Of course, Stan and Dad applaud the Navy cadets. I noticed the blue berets of the peacekeepers (their first year marching in the parade I believe).

We are standing on the north side of the Monument, at the top of the main steps. I see a lady approach the base of the monument and place a single rose on the steps. I hear a young boy asking Dad if he was in the war. Strangely, he asked if he used chainsaws. Dad replies, "No, but we did use wire cutters." The young fellow seemed impressed, said thanks, and left with his classmates. I saw one of them look back and say thanks.

Stan always seems to be so impatient. Always wants to be on the move, going somewhere. He is anxious to get to the National Press Club for the Spam luncheon. He surges ahead of us - a man with a mission.

As we walk along Sparks Street I see a policeman helping a vet in a power wheelchair get his blanket in place. There is a teacher counting heads.

We get to the Press Club and are greeted by the Spam-man (the gentleman responsible for getting the Spam).

We are not in the building very long before the speeches begin. There is Gord Lovelace (I remember him from the Ottawa Journal) welcoming one and all. He introduces the Spam-man. He relates a humorous story about trading rum for Spam overseas. There are other tales and jokes: about an old soldier opening a bar and loss of hands, Tip Top Tailors and the long coat sleeves. Minister MacAulay (from PEI) gets his chance to speak. Then Gord officially opens the "mess tent".

We make our way downstairs and are greeted by a display of war posters and articles. There are cans of Spam in a display cabinet. Another has caps and other items.

As we enter the "mess", we get an aluminum plate and head for the buffet table. Here I get bread, mashed potatoes, two pieces of fried Spam, beans, corn meal, and some crusty Spam. There are photographers and TV crews everywhere. The whole Spam thing has really become a media event.

Even the piper shows up to pipe in a couple of the dignitaries. There is even a Spam "loaf" for MacAulay and some other big wigs.

We hear about one of the veterans near us who is 103 years old. He is here from Georgetown, Ontario. It is his first visit to the Remembrance Day ceremonies in the capital. He came up with his son. The trip was sponsored by his Legion branch. The news crews find out about him as well and do some interviews.

Paul makes some joke about the coat with the poppy. (I can't remember it now.)

The meal turns out to be very filling, though not necessarily balanced or nutritious. As I let the meal settle I watch the goings-on. MacAulay is at the table behind me and carves the Spam Wellington platter. It is a tough job with a plastic knife. I can't remember if he ate any of it or not.

The tales start up. I hear Dad telling about being in the army and up near Petawawa. The rations were boring and the New Zealand butter was rancid. He described their mess kits. The special event was when the mess trucks arrived. There was cold milk and fruit.

He tells about he and his buddy going fishing. They find some gear in a boat down by the river. They end up catching a four pounder. They take it back to the cook and he helps them prepare it. They fry it up in flour and butter. This catches the attention of some of the other guys and they go off to fish as well. There are more fish to fry. He completes his army remembrances by describing the task of digging foxholes in the sand.

Dad says Navy life was better for meals than the army, but after they ran out of fresh fruit and meat on the long hauls they invariably ended up having ham day after day. Stan recounts how he arrived home from one of these trips to a special meal prepared by his new bride – baked ham!!! He ate it, but he told her later to do something else the next time.

Dad speaks of his sister Joan in CWAC?? She returns to Ottawa to find that Dad is in Vernon, B.C. One day, Dad gets called before his superiors and grilled about not being happy and wanting to go home. He is puzzled. They do some investigating and determine the message was done by Joan. She wanted him home. Dad stayed.

After 1:30 we leave, my gut full. We stop in the stairway to look at the display of posters and stories. I read a Christmas story and how the Allied and German soldiers sang together. One Allied soldier got lost and wandered up to a farmhouse. Inside was a family and some German soldiers. They hear him and invite him in to dine.

We make a stop at HMCS Carleton so Dad can show me the Hampton Gray display case. There are squadron crest plaques from 870 and 880, books, a sailor's cap, hat bands from three ships (including the Bonaventure). Stan has a hat band from the Maggie.

Our next stop is very special and touching. Michelle had wanted to borrow Dad's medals for show and tell at school. Dad offered her his dog tags, but she did not take them. Dad decides he will come in person. So we go over to St. Mary's school and see the principal, Mary Somers. She takes us to Michelle's French class with Mme Desjardins. (Unfortunately, she was not with Terry Normoyle who is someone I know from St. Elizabeth's parish.)

Poor Michelle is not sure what to do or say. She gives me a hug. After the introductions, it is very quiet. But then the questions start, and there are stories from the children about their brothers, grandparents, etc. One states his grandma has two medals the same as Dad's (volunteer and victory). Another asks Stan what it was like to kill someone. Stan replies he had not and would not want to. Another student asks what it was like and why would you join? Dad says he was young like many others (17-22) and looking for adventure. War was different then, less technology like computers (there are six in the classroom).

Another fellow speaks of his great uncle in Italy. There is a question about U-boats. I tell him about the Newfoundland sinkings and the German weather station only recently found. There is talk of the bomb shelters (during the Battle of Britain) and how school was during the war.

I notice the students are quiet, attentive, and awed by the discussion.

Stan asks the class how many have a brother 18 or older. A few hands go up. Stan picks up a poppy and starts to tell them they represent the dead kids. He gets very emotional and cannot finish his story.

It is time to leave. We say farewell to Michelle and her classmates.

In the hallway, Dad and I talk to Terry Normoyle. I see a wreath in her class. She is very disappointed we could not have been in to her class. A boy comes up to us with an army tin hat, and says he has a jacket too.

We conclude our visit with a chat with the principal. She calls the visit a teachable moment. She is from Newfoundland and talks about war in that area - St. John's harbour and the sinking of ships by U-boats.

Dad drops me off at home around 3:00. It has been quite a day. A lot of memories.

Written by David Darwin based on notes made shortly after the November 11, 1994 Remembrance Day ceremony.

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Date of last revision: 2013-11-11.
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