Hundreds don masks for poignant Remembrance Day services

·3 min read

Undaunted by rising COVID-19 case numbers, more than 500 Aurora residents donned their masks and found their socially-distant places to pay tribute to the fallen as the Aurora branch of the Royal Canadian Legion hosted Remembrance Day services at the Cenotaph.

Golden leaves rained down on the crowd on the blustery Thursday, applauding a smaller band of veterans as they made their way up the path from Yonge Street to take their place in front of the towering stone tribute to the men and women of Aurora, King and Whitchurch-Stouffville who paid the ultimate sacrifice for King, Queen and Country.

This was not an ordinary Remembrance Day service. Nor was it an ordinary service by COVID-standards as this was the second such service to take place since the start of the global pandemic. Adding extra significance to the occasion were a number of anniversaries, including the 100th anniversary of the humble red poppy being adopted as an iconic symbol of remembrance and the 75th anniversary of the Aurora Legion itself, an organization dedicated not only to preserving the legacy of our veterans but stepping up to meet their needs in civilian life.

“We have not sacrificed anything for our freedom – it was given to us by those who came before us and sacrificed so much,” said Bonnie Robertson, Chair of Aurora’s 2021 Poppy Fund, addressing those in attendance last week. “It is our responsibility to never forget the service and sacrifices of all Canadian soldiers, sailors, airmen and merchant seamen. Today, as we should every day, we remember those who volunteered, sacrificed, served, fought, and died for our freedom. We will never forget.

“The poppy is a symbol of remembrance and, in 1921, the Great War Veterans Association, which in 1925 united with other groups to form the Royal Canadian Legion, adopted the poppy as the flower of remembrance. Every year, we wear them to honour those who served. This year also marks the 75thanniversary of the Aurora Legion Branch 325, which is named after Victoria Cross recipient Col. Fred Tilston. The branch has over 100 veteran members and is a community hub offering something for everyone, not just veterans.”

Leading the parade of dignitaries to pay tribute to the fallen was Second World War veteran Eleanor Thomson who placed a wreath on behalf of the Silver Cross Mother. Ms. Thomson was followed by area MPs Tony Van Bynen and Leah Taylor Roy, who placed theirs on behalf of the People of Canada, MPP Michael Parsa, Mayor Tom Mrakas, King Township Councillor Avia Eek, and Whitchurch-Stouffville Councillor Ken Ferdinands.

Elsewhere, at the Chartwell Hollandview Retirement Community residence, home to more than 10 veterans, residents welcomed a dignitary of their own: Ruth Ann Onley.

Mrs. Onley, wife of former Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley, and an accomplished singer in her own right, hosted a concert at the John West Way residence, sharing songs that bolstered spirits during the First and Second World Wars, selections from the songbook of Dame Vera Lynn that had seniors singing along, and recounting her personal connections to the Second World War through her father, air sea rescue pilot Gordon Wallace.

“My dad flew Warwick airplanes and flew directly towards the sun in order that his crewmen in the back would be faced away from the sun so they could see those who might be in need of rescue in the cold Atlantic,” she said. “I remember my father recalling seeing hands lifting up to reach for those buoys, but the cold was just too much for them and their hands slipped back down into the sea and they were lost. As a result of that light, when we were growing up as kids, Dad did not like candlelight. They were the tapered candles, raw candlelight we could see at the end of the taper. We didn’t have them on our table and he didn’t like overhead lights either. He was a man of very few words. He did not speak, as many did not [on his experience]."

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran

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