COVID-19 restrictions limit Remembrance Day experience, cut into poppy sales

·3 min read

Stuart Johns served in a tank crew in Europe during the Second World War. The 95-year-old won't be able to attend this year's Remembrance Day services downtown because of COVID-19.

Instead, he'll watch it on television, as citizens and veterans are being asked to stay away from the actual ceremony. Only certain dignitaries and individuals representing organizations laying wreaths will be allowed to attend the services at the cenotaph to limit the spread of the virus.

And COVID-19 also means a November without volunteers out selling poppies at malls and city streets.

"It was disappointing when I read in the paper that they're only going to have what you guys call a virtual thing," said Johns, who last year attended the ceremonies with several family members. The service will be streamed online and on local cable TV.

Submitted by Nancy Johns-Root
Submitted by Nancy Johns-Root

One of his three daughters, Nancy Johns-Root, says at least 15 family members have gone with him and he enjoys the attention.

"And he likes that he calls us his grenadiers and he likes to be down there and he likes those kids that are always down there and they always pay attention to him and all the veterans," said Johns-Root.

"I certainly appreciate all those important people getting up, telling us what great heroes we were and all that kind of stuff," said Johns.

And this isn't the first thing COVID-19 has put a damper on for Johns. He was supposed to be part of the Canadian delegation to the Netherlands in May to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland. It was cancelled.

Submitted by Nancy Johns-Root
Submitted by Nancy Johns-Root

He also would have liked to meet the family of a war buddy he got in touch with last year, but travel restrictions scrapped that plan too.

75th anniversary

Not being at the cenotaph this year is particularly disappointing because it marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

"This is the last big one. The 75th," said Johns-Root.

Organizer Paul Lauzon, the president of the Windsor Veterans Memorial Services Committee, said people watching on television will see the usual ceremonies with the trumpet playing last post and the cannon signaling the end of the moment of silence.

Even military units such the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment won't be present. However, Lauzon said veterans who come won't be turned away.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

"It's pretty hard to keep those guys away from a day like November 11th," said Lauzon. "..and to say that the 75th anniversary, they're going to want to be there and we're certainly not going to turn away any veteran," said Lauzon, adding that attendees will be physically distanced.

Poppy sales expected to be down

Meanwhile, the Zone A1 poppy sales chairman with the Royal Canadian Legion is expecting a huge drop in revenues this year because they will not have volunteers out selling poppies in-person.

"The face-to-face used to bring in about 50 per cent of our revenue. Last year it was over $20,000," said Archie Neilson.

Neilson hopes extra boxes placed at Devonshire Mall and at Costco will help make up for at least half of the loss.

He is also hopeful his Branch 594 on Howard Avenue will bring in some extra cash with the sale of poppy masks the Legion is selling across Canada for $10 each. Those will arrive next Monday.

Poppies go on sale on Friday.