“Lest we forget” is a phrase that has long been associated with Remembrance Day — a reminder that we should never forget military members who sacrificed their lives in the service of their country during wartime.
Remembrance Day events are held each year for that very purpose, to preserve the public’s remembrance of that precious sacrifice and to foster appreciation for it. It’s an awareness effort that Lethbridge veteran Glenn Miller takes to heart by helping make citizens, especially children, more aware of local military history and the people who lived it.
It’s a history that becomes farther removed from the lives of most citizens as time goes on. The two world wars, and even the Korean War, are in the distant past to younger people, and the involvement by Canadian soldiers today is limited to peacekeeping or “peacemaking” operations overseas, so most citizens’ lives aren’t touched by it.
“We’re not really affected by war here in Canada,” says Miller, Warrant Officer (Retired) and an expert in local military history.
“Our country isn’t at war. For the average person, they get their Double-Double and just carry on and complain about the price of gas.”
Consequently, it can be difficult for people to appreciate the efforts of people who serve or have served overseas. But it’s an effort that should be appreciated, says Miller.
“Freedom doesn’t come free. There’s a price attached to it.”
There are a number of ways in which efforts are made to ensure the price of freedom isn’t forgotten. Recently a “lighting of the Eternal Flame” ceremony was held at at Mountain View Cemetery in Lethbridge. It was a scaled-down version of the official re-dedication ceremony held in September to mark the completion of renovations to the Immortal Flame monument.
The new, sturdier version of the Immortal Flame monument was the result of the combined efforts of the Legion Poppy Trust Fund, Atco and the City of Lethbridge. The lighting of the flame couldn’t take pace at the time of the rededication because of the city fire ban that was in effect.
Renovation work was also carried out at the Soldiers’ Plot (Field of Honour) at Mountain View Cemetery, providing headstones on soldiers’ gravesites in cases where only simple footstones had marked the places originally.
The Soldiers’ Plot renovation project began in 2012 and was carried out through a partnership of the city, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Last Post Fund of Veterans Affairs.
The Soldiers’ Plot is 100 years old as of this year, Miller says, adding that thanks to the renovation project, “It looks like a proper plot compared to what it was.”
The Soldiers’ Plot even contains the graves of some British and Australian soldiers who died while training in southern Alberta.
Tending to the Soldiers’ Plot was originally the role of Lethbridge’s Galt chapter of the Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), until that chapter closed in 1945, Miller explains.
A ceremony to mark the centennial of the Soldiers’ Plot will be held Saturday, Nov. 4 at 1:30 p.m. at the cemetery site. Miller says the aim is to have 120 local youths involved, one for each of the soldiers buried in the plot, as a way of “passing the torch” to the next generation.
Lethbridge’s last two IODE chapters combined in 1989 but today, the organization does not operate in the city. Miller says it is hoped that a provincial IODE representative will attend the Nov. 4 ceremony.
Miller believes involving young people in Remembrance Day and Veterans Week activities is a good way to raise awareness about the sacrifices made by veterans. In many cases, soldiers who died weren’t much older than high school students, and in some cases, were still of high school age.
The magnitude of the sacrifice is driven home to anyone who visits a site overseas such as the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, which was visited by thousands of Canadian students this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
When you visit this site dedicated to the Canadians killed in France during the First World War, “you come back a different person,” Miller says.
Today, Canadian soldiers killed overseas are returned home for burial. Their return includes what is known as a “ramp ceremony” which takes place when the soldiers’ coffins are loaded onto and later removed from the transport plane. Then they pass along the “Highway of Heroes,” the stretch of Highway 401 in Ontario that leads to the Canadian Forces base at Trenton.
On Nov. 9, Miller will take part in a program at the Galt Museum which will examine military artifacts, and he will discuss the artifacts and share stories associated with the objects. People will be able to bring old military artifacts for examination, and these will be supplemented by items from the museum’s own collection if needed.
The event is part of Veterans Week activities.
“A lot of people are not aware of Veterans Week so that’s another educational component,” Miller says.
The Lethbridge Military Museum is another way for people to learn about the area’s military history. The museum’s website recently completed an online depiction of the museum’s large mural which is made up of 60 smaller portraits and scenes. It’s known as the “Mosaic Project,” and visitors to the site can click on one of the smaller images and uncover details about the scene. Since the online project was completed recently, Miller says the museum has seen a noticeable spike in the number of visitors to the website.
The Royal Canadian Legion’s annual Poster and Literary Contest is another effort aimed at helping young people learn about their country’s military history. Students are encouraged to participate by contributing posters, essays or poems based on the Remembrance Day theme. There are prizes up for grabs, and the contest is open to all grades.
“We encourage all students to do it just to help promote that Remembrance component,” says Miller.
It’s all part of helping people remember the reason for Remembrance Day and its associated activities — and to help them appreciate the meaning behind it.