Passing the torch to the next generation
As Canada honours those who have fought for this country, the Royal Canadian Legion looks to the future.
2017 marks 100 years since some of the nation’s defining battles of the First World War — Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. The number of individuals who served for Canada in any of the past wars is diminishing by the year. When it comes to ensuring that history is not lost, the Camrose Royal Canadian Legion Branch 057 is increasingly turning to a younger generation.
Starting with this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, the Legion has turned over the colour party to the 644 Camrose Rotary Air Cadets and the Camrose branch 3068 of the SALH Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps.
“The cadets here do a wonderful job and they’re our last link to the military,” said Camrose Legion Sgt. of Arms Ragnar Gislason, 84, who did two tours in Germany and a tour in Cyprus during the Cold War. “We in the Legion, we’re all getting older … I have a lot of faith in the young people, they’re going to pull through.”
Gislason added it is difficult to scrounge up enough local veterans to fill out the colour party.
“We just don’t have the old guys anymore,” he said.
The cadets will split the colour guard between the two regiments and each year take turns leading it.
In some regard, it is a positive that Canada is so far removed from world-wide conflict that the number of veterans are dwindling. But with Canada’s 12 years of involvement in Afghanistan it underlines how important that these lessons are continued on today and the soldiers who died for this country continue to be honoured.
“Every year that passes it becomes equally as important, or even more important, especially with the loss of our original world war one veterans,” said Camrose Legion vice president Adrian Zink. “We have to be able to keep the stories and the recognition going and ensuring the younger generation is well informed of what it is.”
In the South Africa War of 1899-1902, 7,000 Canadians volunteered to fight with Great Britain, and 300 died.
In the First World War (1914-18), 650,000 served, 66,000 died and another 172,000 were wounded. At Vimy Ridge, 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,000 were wounded, while at Passchendaele more than 4,000 were killed and another 12,000 were wounded.
In the Second World War (1939-45) more than one million Canadians served and more than 47,000 died, while in the Korean War (1950-53) 26,791 Canadians served with 516 dying. More than 1,800 Canadians have died in other conflicts and peace keeping missions, including 158 who died in Afghanistan.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, the estimated veteran population in Canada as of March 2014 is 75,900 from the Second World War with an average age of 91, 9,100 from the Korean War with an average age of 83, while there are 600,300 Canadian Forces veterans of regular forces and primary reserves with an average age of 57.
As opposed to singling out certain battles and wars at the Remembrance Day ceremonies, organizers are focusing on the whole picture.
“We have special times for different commemorations of different things, the 150th anniversary of our country really ties up in with what happened in days gone by,” said Gislason. “We need to bear in mind that a lot of good people died so that we can sit around and not say ‘seig heil’ or ‘hello tovarishch.’ That’s what this is all about, it’s a remembrance.”
Camrose has a long military history as a training base. In 1938, Rosehaven, or the Camrose Normal School as it was known then, was turned over to the Department of National Defence and served as military headquarters for the No. 131 Canadian Army. There were about 10 H-shaped huts, a mess quarter, medical building and a storehouse built on what is now the Camrose and District Centennial Museum grounds. They served as home to more than 1,000 enlisted soldiers from all over Canada, making up Platoon #14 Camrose D Company, 2nd battalion over the course of the Second World War.
Camrose played an integral role in arguably Canada’s most important battle, at Vimy Ridge, where it is said we truly became a country, fighting as a unified nation for the first time. Pte. Angus Anderson of the 50th Battalion, Pte. William Milne of the 16th Battalion, Pte. John Pattison of the 50th Battalion, Capt. Thain MacDowell of the 38th Battalion, Cpl. Theo Bailey of the 1st Battalion and L/Sgt. Ellis Sifton of the 18th Battalion were all among the Camrosians who fought at Vimy Ridge.
To fill the Legion ranks, membership has been loosened in recent years. You no longer have to have served to be a Legion member, just be a citizen of Canada.
“It’s a good thing, they’re working to keep the Legion alive,” said Gislason.
This year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies return to the Camrose Regional Exhibition once again. People are encouraged to be in their seats by 10:45 a.m. There will be speeches by Camrose Mayor Norm Mayer, Battle River-Crowfoot MP Kevin Sorenson, and Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA Bruce Hinkley, and Rev. Jacques Vaillancourt of St. Andrews Anglican Church will deliver a message.
The Camrose Composite High School band will be joining with the Camrose and District Community Band to play during the ceremony.
Photos by Crystal Hedeman/Camrose Canadian Contributor