In 1942, RCAF flight engineer Bob Locke came home to Manitoba injured after a plane crash in Northern Ireland where nine people died. He didn't stay home for long, though – soon he was back in the air over Britain and Europe. He next returned home in August 1945, at the end of the Second World War.
The Gazette shared Locke's story on Nov. 6, 1985, as it has shared many unique yet similar stories from local veterans over the years. A decade earlier, on Nov. 5, 1975, Joseph Therrien – a veteran of both World Wars – shared his memories about how the end of the First World War spread by word-of-mouth: "People piled into the cars and travelled on earthen roads from Legal to Morinville with the good news."
The ties that bind St. Albert's residents to Remembrance Day remain strong decades later. In 2014, 93-year-old Vera Bruce shared her experience working on radar – a new and ultra-secret technology at the time – as a petty officer in the Royal Navy from 1942 to 1945. In 2015, William Opitz – a Second World War veteran who swept mines with the Canadian Navy – received a high honour from the French government for his role in liberating that country 70 years prior.
We could (and have over the years) fill these pages with the stories of St. Albert-area heroes who fought, some who died, and all who helped to shape the world we live in today. Though we have shared their stories before, it's easy to forget them once a week or a month passes. But each individual story reminds us why we pause on Nov. 11 to reflect.
This year, Remembrance Day looks different than ever before. We won't see the 2,000-plus crowd of people who gathered at the St. Albert cenotaph in 1980 and the thousands more who have gathered since then. It will be a closed, small affair because of COVID-19, but will be livestreamed online, like many other ceremonies across the country.
Along with these closed ceremonies comes a Canada-wide drop in participation for Remembrance Day: a recent poll from Historica Canada found fewer people are planning to wear a poppy – 71 per cent, down from 85 per cent last year; and substantially fewer people – just 28 per cent – are planning to attend either online or in-person ceremonies.
But despite all those who won't take the time to remember this year, the cenotaph remains, a reminder of the many lives lost for hard-won victories. It's available at all times for St. Albertans who want to take a solemn moment outside the traditional Remembrance Day ceremony to reflect on the sacrifice our veterans made.
As for those 29 per cent of Canadians who didn't wear poppies, and those 72 per cent who didn't plan to attend some form of ceremony, they should remember that Nov. 11 is not a happy holiday; it is a grave and quiet memorialization for our war dead, and solemn tribute for those who survived. Remembering them is the least we should do. If it wasn’t for them, you might not have the freedom to choose not to wear a poppy today.
Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.