Do you do anything special on Remembrance Day? When I was a child, in the early 1950s, we always went to see the large parade. I don’t know where the parade started; we watched as it came down Robie Street and passed Jubilee Road. Large formations of army, navy and air force, each in their distinctive uniforms, marched by, to the beat of their brass bands. And then there were the veterans. WWI vets were beginning to age out, but WWII had ended only a decade earlier so those vets were still relatively young. Everybody remembered how to march.
As a youngster I was particularly fascinated by the rows of medals the vets wore. Many would have the same collection on their chest. Then there would be a man, often someone who appeared to be quite humble, who would stand out because of his, vast, glittering line of decorations and you understood that something heroic had happened.
In the Cove
When we moved to the cove, nearly 25 years ago, I started crossing the road to our community cemetery on Remembrance Day to visit the graves of two veterans, brothers Dougald and Arthur Gargan. The cemetery was not maintained, so I would mow around the stones before November 11. For a while someone taped poppies to the stones, but eventually that stopped.
Around 11 o’clock on the 11th I’d try to remember to spend a moment over there with them and then maybe just look off into the harbour. It is a beautiful spot, conducive to a little contemplation.
Then in 2016 the Gargan brothers got the respect they really deserved. It turned out that the Gargans were known to Rear-Admiral John Newton, who was in his last year as Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic and Maritime Forces Atlantic. He presided over a beautiful and surprising little ceremony at the grave site, and talked about the Gargans and his connection to their story (see here).
This year I’ll probably be alone again with Dougald and Arthur. War is beyond my understanding, but maybe every little gesture helps?
- I’m really not alone with the Gargans because from the cemetery I can look across to the Sailors’ Memorial in Point Pleasant Park. If conditions are right, I can pick up faint sounds of ceremony there.
- Back in the 60s the Sailor’s Memorial was on Citadel Hill near the ramparts of the fort.
By the late 1960s the panels, with the names of thousands of dead sailors, were deteriorating. So in 1966 the memorial was dismantled and “buried at sea,” in Bedford Basin. A new iteration of the memorial was erected in Point Pleasant Park in 1967.
- Dougald Gargan’s grave is cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Over the years there have been a couple of occasions when I’ve been working in our garden and a car comes slowly down our little dirt road and the driver asks if there is a cemetery nearby. It turned out that these were staff from the War Graves Commission, checking to see that Dougald’s stone was in good condition, like the tens of thousands of other markers they look after.