What emotion do veterans feel when they see someone wearing a poppy?
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Royal Canadian Legion poppy chairman and Ladies’ Auxiliary president Gerry Laird points to a photo of her brother Roy Coombe, who died in Italy during the Second World War. The Legion will hold its annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Prince Albert Armoury starting at 11 a.m.
In a word: Pride.
“I smile, and I have a proud feeling, and I even say to them, ‘Thank you,’ Prince Albert Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) branch president Grant Bennett said. “And those that know my background, they say ‘No, thank you.’”
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Bennett is well-placed to supervise the Legion’s Remembrance Day activities. The two most significant events are the special remembrance ceremony at the Prince Albert Armoury and the poppy sales that take place in stores across town.
“Our goal is remembrance of those that went over, fought, died over there, and those that have been able to come home, because those that even came home live with memories for the rest of their lives,” Bennett said.
The remembrance service at the Armoury starts at 11 a.m. and will be followed by food and entertainment at the Legion building. Poppy sales began on Oct. 26 and continue at stores around the city until Remembrance Day.
Since 1921, the poppy has served as a symbol of Canada’s fallen soldiers. Every year, volunteers go to stores such as Wal-Mart and Sobeys to sell poppies.
Aside from its role in memorializing the country’s war dead, poppy sales do a great deal to help out surviving veterans.
“Any money made does not come to us per se,” poppy chairman and RCL Ladies’ Auxiliary president Gerry Laird said. “It’s used for veterans that need help or (are) sick. A lot of veterans are getting to the age where they need help.
“You don’t have to be a veteran, but part of a veteran — a daughter, son, grandson, whatever — and if they need some critical help, then they can go and see if they can apply for it, and then we would have to go to Regina to see if they would pass it, and then we could write a cheque and help somebody if they needed help. It’s trust.”
Those that even came home live with memories for the rest of their lives. Grant Bennett
Laird has seen more than her share of family members go off to combat. Her husband and brothers all fought in the Second World War.
One of her brothers, Roy Coombe, fell during the Allied campaign in Italy and was buried in that country. Laird eventually travelled to Italy with her family to visit Roy’s gravesite and lay a poppy there.
“It was my oldest brother that died,” she said. “We were a big family, and I thought all the time, ‘There he is laying over there.’ Nobody could be there, and I wanted to make sure that when I took my family over that they would know that my brother was there. He just wasn’t somebody thrown in the ground, and I wanted them to remember him, and that’s why we went there.”
Prince Albert residents appear mindful about the need to remember their veterans. Bennett pointed to past years in which attendance at the Armoury ceremony far outstripped expectations.
“Since 9/11, we’ve had a growth in attendance,” he said. “For a couple years it slacked off, but then all of a sudden it came back up again. Last year, we had 1,400 chairs set up, and luckily we had more than we needed there because we had to set up eight more rows of chairs for people. So we were looking closer at 2,000, maybe even 2,100 people inside the Armouries.”
If feedback from local schools is any indication, the next generation is at least as receptive to the spirit of Remembrance Day.
“The kids in school are really adapting to the poppy and to the veterans,” Laird said. “This Legion goes out to 22 schools this year and someone speaks to them and they parade in their flags … The teacher will say, 'Take off your hats, put that cellphone away,' all those little things … and I’ll tell you, you see respect.”