A chilly north wind blew across St. Albert Municipal Cemetery Monday morning, scattering fall leaves across the silent gravestones of Canada’s war dead.
Breaking the eerie silence was the rumble of 10 yellow school buses carrying about 450 W. D. Cuts Junior High students.
It was the school’s fifth annual pilgrimage as part of the No Stone Left Alone Memorial Foundation. For nine years, the foundation has encouraged students across the country to visit Fields of Honour in their communities and lay poppies at the headstones.
A lead-in to Remembrance Day, it is a symbolic act that commemorates veterans’ services and sacrifices. There are more than 70 markers in the cemetery from various forces including the Irish Guards, Canadian Scottish Regiment, Royal Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force and the 11th Field Ambulance, to name a few.
This year, the forces pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign and the 100th anniversary since Canada first observed the First World War Armistice Day.
Bob Fagan, past president of the Royal Canadian Legion and a 30-year retired warrant officer with the Canadian Forces, is Cuts' veteran co-ordinator for No Stone Left Alone.
“They paid the ultimate price. They fought for our freedom. We have freedom because these people gave their all and they need to be remembered,” Fagan said.
Matt Biollo, a leadership teacher at Cuts, worked closely with Fagan to prepare the ceremony. Biollo’s personal connection is his uncle Peter, a Second World War airman whose plane was shot down and who now lies in a manicured grave in France.
“It is important students reflect on this. We’re lucky to have a Field of Honour. It’s important to get the kids to come out and get connected, as opposed to thinking of Remembrance Day as just part of a long weekend,” said Biollo.
As the school liaison, Biollo played a recording of Last Post, Piper’s Lament and Reveille followed by the laying of four wreaths at the Field of Honour Headstone. Once the official ceremonies were completed, Grade 9 students scattered across the cemetery to lay bright red poppies on every weathered grave marker.
Cameron Mason, 13, an air cadet with Squadron 533, was posted at the Field of Honour Headstone. Following in his ancestors’ footsteps, Mason had several uncles and great uncles who fought in Europe’s two great wars.
“It’s important to remember my ancestors who served and everyone else who sought to provide service to their country. Our country would be a different place if they hadn’t given their lives for us,” said Mason.
While the -3 C weather provided a small degree of discomfort, it was a small price to pay in comparison to trench soldiers dealing with cold, hunger, dampness, noise and the trauma of seeing a comrade killed beside you.
“Now, soldiers receive more recognition. It was due to the Afghanistan War. It brought it to people’s attention. Afghanistan was so dramatic. It opened up people’s eyes to what soldiers endure when they pay the ultimate price,” said Fagan.
As part of the project, Fagan states students will write their reflections on how the No Stone Left Alone experience altered their perspective.
The St. Albert Legion hosts Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph on the banks of the Sturgeon River on Monday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m.