Last Friday I was thrilled to be in the Peace Tower at 11:00 a.m. when a very special Canadian ceremony took place. About a dozen or so of us slid behind grandiose pillars and in between glass cases holding large books as beautifully ornamented as those done by monks centuries ago. You can see from the photo here that I am wearing a badge. That is a clue. Visitors must go through strict security measures to get into the Centre Block of our Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Ontario.
Each day a Canadian soldier, dressed with all spit and polish and clicking his or her shiny boots with every measured step from case to case around the grandiose room turns one page of each of the large books. My husband and I were there to see the page containing my uncle’s name be exposed to start its twenty-four hour sojourn in the light.
The room is called the Memorial Chamber–a commemoration to those who died in military service to Canada.
Looking back through the doorway I spied the beautiful stonework and the use of light and colour.
Before the ceremony I studied the case containing my Uncle Frank’s name. The lid has not yet been raised.
On one wall the words every school child of my generation memorized and repeated on November 11 each year–the poem penned by John MacRae, who himself ended up between the crosses during World War I.
I loved the way the sun coming through the gorgeous stained glass windows above anointed the names in each book.
The Second World War case is open in preparation for the ceremony.
Here is the soldier preparing to turn the page. I watched in anticipation of seeing my Uncle Frank’s name come to light. I never knew him. He died in August, 1944, in Italy two years before I was born. My whole life, though, I’ve revered the stories of my mother and those repeated at every Remembrance Day service I ever attended. I remember in high school wearing our cadet uniforms and lining up all up and down the main hall of Woodstock Collegiate Institute, our eyes turned to the showcases in the centre of the school where the ceremony took place. And I cried real tears, so moving were the moments.
Here is the gloved hand of the soldier doing this act of remembrance and homage. I did not cry. I nodded my head in unity with the soldier. These were not just names but real people with mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, families and friends, dreams and hopes and lives all dashed to dust. And we honour them.
My husband watches from across the room as the soldier bows his head.
After the clicking heels had rattled out of the tower room and down the corridor we were left with unimpeded views to the new day’s names. My Uncle Frank’s name–Cpl. Frank Gerald Doxey–is the second one on this page. He was a member of the Perth Regiment.
I quickly snapped a couple more shots; others were waiting behind me.
And here’s the best picture I took. I look at all the other names on Uncle Frank’s page and think of all the pages and all the books and all the deaths. And I am humbled and staggered by the loss.
Uncle Frank was 28 years old when he died. He left behind a wife and a young daughter, my cousin Peggy. Her lovely mother married again and birthed more children so that Peggy was raised in a wonderful family with a man who was every bit a father to her. Peggy loved to talk to my mother, though, and ask her questions about her father, the father she never really knew.
And still today as I write this, I shake my head at my tearing eyes and at all the floods of tears all over the world because of war. This is not the war I wrote about in my trilogy but the sentiments are the same.
And now as we celebrate on Saturday Canada’s 150th birthday since Confederation in 1867, I pray that we will need no more books of remembrance, no more beautiful calligraphy with each letter a tribute. After all, there is no more space in the Peace Tower memorial room for more cases or walls for wars. All the young men and women need to live their lives in peace, only at the end dying in their beds.
Lest We Forget