As we approached the summer of 2014 and with it the 100th anniversary of the onset of WWI, it occurred to me that I did not know the names of the fallen from our church. Indeed, other than my uncle being killed in Vietnam, I did not know names of people remembered on November 11.
This began to bother me as we always recite at Remembrance Day services that ‘we will remember them’. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t even realize that we had WWI and WWII windows in the church! I also realized that I knew little of WWI – the causes and what really happened. So I set out to learn the names of the WWI fallen from our church – there are 14 of them.
I spent time in the London Room at the central library looking at archives from the London Free Press and the London Advertiser. The first picture I found was of Frederick Livermore. It was a perfect picture and was accompanied by a poignant poem given by his mother and family.
Looking into his eyes I was amazed and moved and ‘hooked’. Gradually I was able to develop remembrance cards for all of our soldiers with pictures, dates and biographies. There is still one soldier who remains an enigma, Second Lieutenant Henry Wallace Campbell. It is clear to me that he is not from our church, and the mystery remains as to why he is remembered in the window.
Now each Remembrance Sunday since 2014, there are cards placed with pictures and biographies for all of our WWI and the twenty WWII fallen (including the men who were part of the 6th London Scout Troop that met at the church in the 1930s and 1940s and who provided our WWI window).The cards are accompanied by a candle and poppies and include their last letter home or a poem they wrote.
In 2015, my husband Garry and I went to France and Ypres in Belgium to visit some of the graves. We wondered what to take – remembering that for most of the WWI soldiers they would not have been specifically visited at all. Slate had been coming off the church roof and would have been there when the men were little. So we had small pieces of slate engraved with their names and the name of St. George’s church. Our intent was to bury the slate in the graves by the headstone.
Our time in France and Belgium was short and intense. We went first to the Vimy Memorial where two of our soldiers are remembered. While they did not fall at Vimy the memorial contains the names of the 11,000 men from Canada who fell in France whose bodies were not recovered. We were able to do rubbings of the men’s names to bring home for framing. We also visited the grave of Sgt. Maj. Samuel Henry Courtney and left some slate. A Facebook account was kept and people from St. George’s were able to follow daily what we were doing. We were touched by how much both wars remain close in the people’s memories in France and how WWI is being remembered there.
On to Ypres and the first grave we visited was of Frederick Livermore, the man who really started this odyssey of mine. We were able to visit three other cemeteries around Ypres and we brought back something from each grave – a twig, a stone, a pine cone, some dirt. It is astounding to realize that while Ypres is a very small town there are 160 military cemeteries there! It is also the place where John McRae penned his famous poem.
In Ypres is the Menin Gate, a huge edifice which spans the road the men would have taken to the trenches. On the gate are the names of 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Ypres Salient whose bodies were never found. In Ypres every night since 1928 the people close the gate at 8 pm and hold a Last Post Ceremony thanking the Commonwealth soldiers for their sacrifice! We were able to lay a wreath at the ceremony when we were there in memory of Pte. George Brooks and were amazed that there were upwards of 800 people there!
On our return we were able to present what we had seen and learned at the church on two evenings, and to the Sunday School. The learning continues, and we are only in the midst of the 100th anniversary of WWI.
For the future, Garry and I plan to return to France and Belgium next April for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. We will lay a wreath on behalf of St. George’s. We will also return to Ypres and finish what we started in France, that is, we will take engraved slate to the graves of the rest of our WWI fallen and visit the WWII men who lie in Normandy.
Nancy Dodman is a parishioner of St. George’s, London.