Their eyes will never meet, they’ll never engage in conversation, nor will they pass by each other on the street.
Despite that relative disconnect, four generations of Canadians were introduced to one another Tuesday morning at Mountain View Cemetery.
More than 100 students from St. Mary’s Catholic school participated in what was the first event of its kind in Vancouver. Part ceremony, part recognition, part education, the No Stone Left Alone ceremony linked up members of the Canadian Army and Air Force with students ranging between seven and 12 years old.
They met towards the westernmost portion of the cemetery, referred to as Jones 45. More than 570 men and women who served in the two world wars are buried at Mountain View. The largest concentration of the cemetery’s war casualties rest in Jones 45. Approximately 61,000 Canadians died in the First World War. Forty-four thousand were killed during the Second World War.
A Grade 2 teacher at St. Mary’s, Catherine Moffatt helped organize the ceremony. Her grandmother served in Great Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, while her grandfather was a soldier in the Second World War.
Two generations removed from seeing the horrors of war first hand, Moffatt grew up around the teachable moments she imparts on her students today.
“We talk about solving problems with our friends in peaceful ways,” she said. “We use words, we don’t use our bodies to hurt other people. This event is like that but on a bigger scale. People start fighting because their countries don’t agree, but there are other ways to solve problems.”
No Stone Left Alone began in Alberta in 2011. The format varies slightly between ceremonies, though one takeaway is constant: headstone are left with physical tokens of remembrance. In some instances that keepsake is a poppy. On Tuesday, St. Mary’s students drew poppies on rocks and left them atop the headstones, some of which commemorated soldiers as young as 16.
“Remembrance Day for kids of that age is a lot of watching and listening — if you’re lucky, you can maybe see something,” said Capt. Alex Haussmann of the Vancouver-based 39 Canadian Brigade Group. “This is a very visceral, physical connection with soldiers and in a way, we are their soldiers.”
The hour-long ceremony included prayers and a singing of O Canada. “In Flanders Field” was recited and a ceremonial wreath was laid before the Cross of Sacrifice, a commemorative feature found in Commonwealth cemeteries across the world.
Both the students and the 14 members of the Armed Forces who were present took vows promising to remember the dead, their wartime contributions and commitments to peace.
Haussmann has been in the army for more than 30 years. Her husband is also a military man who served in Bosnia. Remembrance Day has a profound ripple effect amongst her colleagues that many struggle with.
“I asked other people that I work with now, who very much wanted to be here, but were not emotionally ready,” she said. “I will take a couple of the stones that are on these graves here, and I will take them back to those gentlemen. That, in a way, is very meaningful to me.”
- This story has been updated since first published