Canadian cenotaphs: Markers of stone, act of remembrance

To the Editor:

When I am traveling around my home province of Saskatchewan, I like taking pictures of old houses and barns. One day I was in the small town of Ruddell. It is almost a ghost town. Even its grain elevators are long gone - torn down by modernization.

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As I was standing by the post office, I looked across the street and I noticed a cross sticking up just above a well-maintained hedge. I wondered what this marker was for. Then I walked around the hedge to see it more clearly. It was a cenotaph. As I walked closer, I saw the names inscribed on it.

The First World War and the names of the men from Ruddell and the surrounding area who had served in that war were inscribed on the top part of the cenotaph. The names of the men from Ruddell and the surrounding area who had served in the Second World War were inscribed below.

As I reached out and touched the names on the plaque, I realized that these men were all volunteers who went overseas to fight a war that they did not want nor start. They fought for our freedom as well as the freedom of others.

The names of these men on this cenotaph are the ones who did not return home. They are buried over there in the countries where they fought. Some lie in marked graves and some lie in unmarked graves. These men will never to see their homeland, "Canada" again.

The small town of Ruddell, Sask. paid a high price in two world wars in the cost of lives of its young men as well as did the rest of Canada.

In every major city and in most small towns in Canada there are cenotaphs. They were built from the immaculate to the very simple in design. There are even cenotaphs places where the towns have now disappeared.

Most of our cenotaphs were built after the war to end all wars - the First World War or "Great War." The first names were put on these monuments then. Then came the Second World War and more names were added at that time. Then along came Korea and more names were added to these cenotaphs. With the end of the Korean War, Canada took up peacekeeping and over the years more soldiers were lost in these duties. Now we have the war on terrorism in Afghanistan adding more names to these lists.

As I looked at these names from the First World War, I wondered where these men died? Was it at Arras, Amiens, Passchendaele, the Somme, Vimy Ridge or Ypres? Then I looked at the names under the Second World War. Where did they die? Hong Kong, The Battle of the Atlantic, Kiska, Dieppe, Sicily, Italy, Ortona, Holland, or Juno Beach on "D-Day? The Battle of the Scheldt or maybe in the skies over Europe?"

In recent years in some cities and towns here in Canada, some of these cenotaphs have been desecrated and damaged by people who have no understanding what these monuments stand for. Shame on them!

These monuments lie on holy ground. These men and women fought for our freedom as well as the freedom of others. The names on these monuments are the names of the ones who did not come back. The soldiers who came back suffer from horrors that we, "the ones who never had to go and fight in a war" will never understand.

So the next time you are standing beside a cenotaph, reach out and touch and read the names on it. The next time you see a veteran, thank him for your freedom.

I do not really blame these people who do this to our monuments for their ignorance. I blame our federal and provincial education systems. If we do not teach our war history in our schools to our children, how will they ever learn? Shame on us.

One line from the poem In Flanders Fields, says it all: "To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high." That torch and their legacy were passed on to us. It is now our turn and duty to pass it on to the next generation. God knows that they did not shirk their duty to Canada or to the rest of the world. Let us not fail them.

Now when I am out taking photographs in small towns, I take the time to take a picture of their cenotaphs. They remind me that someone had to pay a price for the freedom we enjoy to this very day.
As I stood there by this stone marker with its list of engraved names, I wondered, when was the last time a piper played, "Flowers of the Forest" or a bugler played "The Last Post?" But most of all, when was the last time the "Ode of Remembrance" from poet British poet Laurence Binyon's 1914 poem, For the Fallen, was said over them?

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them."

Per-capita, Canada paid a higher price in the loss of military lives in two world wars than even that of the United States of America.

Lest we forget.

Keith Picard

Dalmeny, Sask.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

(In Flanders Fields was written by Canadian Lt-Col. John McCrae, a physician, at the Second Battle of Ypres on May 3, 1915. It was first published seven months later on Dec. 8, 1915 in the British magazine Punch)

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