It is July 14, 2013, I’m an ocean away from home, surrounded by people I’ve only met a few days ago – and I am in tears. The cemetery in which we are standing is lovely, so calm and peaceful, spiritually tranquil.
A soft breeze causes the small paper Canadian flag to flutter in my hand. Kneeling, I write on it:
“Forever with the living. Ever remembered by Royal Canadian Legion Br. 238 Fenelon Falls, Ontario” before pushing its stick into the ground in front of the
stone, upon which the inscription reads:
725524 Private J.W. Shankland
20th Bn Canadian Inf
9th November 1917 Age 19
Moving on, I stop at another stone, and repeat the ritual after matching the name to that which is on a carefully folded piece of paper I have carried across the miles:
724272 Private R.H. Mark
38th Bn Canadian Inf
3rd November 1917 Age 33
This is Belgium – Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery to be precise. To be more poetically explicit, it is Flanders Fields.
There are no poppies blowing, and the ragged lines of crosses have long ago been replaced by neat rows of gleaming white headstones adorned with regimental insignia and inscriptions which often read simply “Unknown Soldier”.
Privates John Shankland and Robert Mark are commemorated on the Cenotaph in my home town of Fenelon Falls. The bronze plaque bears the names of thirty-six local boys who gave their lives in the name of king and country in the years between 1914 and 1918. And I am on a quest to pay my respects to as many of
them as I can, while on a two-week Pilgrimage to northern France and Belgium.
It has been an honour to stand in remembrance of five more at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium; in France, at the grave of
Pte. Charles Norman Metcalfe at Sun Quarry Cemetery near Cherisy, and at the Vimy Memorial, which bears the names of eleven of our fallen. In some cases, I am the only person to have had the opportunity to visit them, to tell them that they are remembered. It is a humbling experience.
A very few names amongst hundreds of thousands whose sacrifices are worthy of a few moments of acknowledgement as we pin on our poppies in this, the one hundredth year since the armistice of “the war to end all wars”.
Lest We Forget
Belinda Wilson participated in the Legion’s biennial Pilgrimage of Remembrance, and has delivered dozens of presentations across Ontario since 2013.