Remembrance Day 2
There is a wide swath of war graves at the Burnsland Cemetery in Calgary and every Remembrance Day, while the big ceremonies are held at the Military Museums and the cenotaph in Memorial Park, a very small contingent of reservists, a reedy piper, David Bercuson as an honorary Colonel in the Canadian Forces and a padre hold an 11 o'clock service.
Heavy equipment grinding up rocks, or salt, or whatever it is they do in the City gravel pit next to the military cemetery is the audio backdrop, and in past years it has been interrupted by loudspeakers from the car lots on MacLeod Trail broadcasting 'Ron, line 2". The field of headstones and graves has no flowers, just bleached grass and trees along the roadways.
Call me an aesthete, but I find this overly utilitarian and bleak. When I watch at this time of year all the services and ceremonies from Europe and the shots of the Commonwealth War Graves throughout the Netherlands and northern France with each grave lovingly tended by the children of the village, or the adjacent city, planted with flowers so tender, so beautiful, the dear old vets in tears in front of one of the standard issue grey granite headstones in a garden, my heart aches for the paucity of our attention to the gravestones we have here.
They are all men, on the Calgary stones. During WWII we had Currie Barracks, Sarcee, Lincoln Fields; Calgary was a base in the Commonwealth Air Training Program, and so many of these very young men – just nineteen, or twenty, from Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Poland – died in training accidents. Does it matter if you crash on an Alberta field or in Sicily? It was war, and you were dead.
I approached the City of Calgary a couple of years ago to propose that we set up a programme whereby grade school classes adopt a military grave and, besides researching the fellow in it, make it beautiful. Interest was less than zero, it was actually hostile. The rules for civic cemeteries are clear: no planting allowed. This has something to do with ease of mowing I understand. This is beyond embarassing, this is an insult, and I feel I must apologise to all the young men who died in Calgary in both world wars for this.