Poppy Rocks project - Remembering our veterans

BROCKTON – Douglas Hill Cemetery, in the northern part of Brockton on Highway 3, was the scene of a special ceremony of remembrance on Saturday, Oct. 29.

Participants included members of the Royal Canadian Legion, Paisley Br. 295, including president Glen Hanley; Jan Briggs-McGowan, who has spearheaded the “Poppy Rocks” initiative in Brockton; Paisley area school children; and the families of war veterans buried in the cemetery.

The students had painted the small stones, to be placed on the headstones of veterans, through the No Stone Left Alone program, a registered charity.

“The stones were beautiful,” said Briggs-McGowan. “The kids from Paisley did them.”

Following the ceremony, 67 stones were placed.

Briggs-McGowan noted that as with the cemeteries in Walkerton, where 422 stones have been placed to date, identifying the graves of veterans often requires painstaking research. People who returned from the war and went on with their lives were often reticent about discussing their wartime service. Sometimes people moved to other communities and sometimes records are lost or misplaced. Sometimes the women who served got married and changed their names.

In the case of Douglas Hill Cemetery, there were a number of people who had a detailed knowledge of the families in the area.

“I helped with the research,” said Briggs-McGowan, who got involved in March.

By May, the group had approximately 50 names. She gives Florence Mackesy most of the credit for the success of the Douglas Hill Cemetery project, along with Les Able (caretaker of the cemetery), Terry and Mary O’Hagan, who were responsible for the small flags placed on veterans’ graves, and Jim Kelly – researcher.

Then came teacher Sharon Hope and No Stone Left Alone.

“From there, it blossomed,” said Briggs-McGowan.

As with Walkerton, names continue to emerge. At Douglas Hill Cemetery, one name was confirmed and added to the list on Oct. 29.

It is the goal of Briggs-McGowan and the others connected with the project to honour all veterans buried in Brockton by placing a stone painted with the poppy, the symbol of remembrance, on each of their graves. Eventually, there’ll be a list on the municipal website of all the veterans buried in Brockton, with locations of graves.

In addition to the 422 in the two Walkerton cemeteries and the 67 placed at Douglas Hill Cemetery, nine poppy rocks have been placed in the two Riversdale cemeteries. Plans are to continue the project at the Starkvale Cemetery (the furthest north in Brockton) in the spring.

Anyone who knows of a veteran buried in Brockton, who has not yet been honoured by the placing of a poppy rock, may contact the Walkerton Legion (519-881-0821) or for Douglas Hill Cemetery, the Paisley Legion (519-353-5444). They may also leave information and a contact name and number at the Walkerton Herald-Times office.

“We’re always open to new names,” said Briggs-McGowan.

Another initiative to remember veterans is being undertaken by the Walkerton Legion – the placing of banners downtown in Walkerton, Mildmay and Cargill. Contact Rick Clayfield at the Walkerton Legion for information.

As a point of interest, Lt. Col. John McCrae, author of “In Flanders Fields,” had a strong connection with the Cargill area. His mother was Janet Simpson Eckford, and his grandfather, John Eckford, is buried in Douglas Hill Cemetery.

McCrae was a physician in the First World War. After presiding at the funeral of his friend Alexis Helmer, killed in battle, McCrae penned the words of the poem that has come to symbolize remembrance. It is one of the most quoted poems from the war.

At the Oct. 29 ceremony, “In Flanders Fields” was read by Zone C-4 Commander Rob Butchart.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times