It was only after the guns fell silent on Nov. 11, 1918, after four years of total war, that the world began to grapple with the scale and meaning of the catastrophe that had shattered European civilization, and with how to memorialize such an event and all the lives lost in it.
The first Armistice Day observation was authorized by King George V to mark Nov. 11, 1919, in remembrance of the service men and women who fell during the conflict, and the practice was quickly adopted across the British Empire.
Since today’s Crosses of Sacrifice and other war memorials, often set in small urban parks, didn’t appear widely until after an international fundraising campaign in the 1920s and ‘30s, early Armistice Day services were often held in local cemeteries, in which numbers of returned wounded veterans were already being interred.
When the Royal Canadian Legion was founded in November 1925, its orders defined its Armistice Day service as a cemetery-based ceremony, and local tradition holds that these were organized at St. Peter’s Church, Quamichan, and St. Ann’s Church, Tzouhalem, from 1926 onward.
When the local cenotaph now in Charles Hoey Park was erected in Duncan during the 1930s, the Legion’s Remembrance Day observations shifted to that location and focused more explicitly on veterans who fell and were interred overseas, rather than on those who had survived and returned to live out their days at home.
This encouraged Legion volunteers in branches across the country to continue with the cemetery cross placements to honour all who had served, and the Duncan branch was one of these.
In 1955, Mountain View Cemetery, Somenos, was established as a municipal burial ground with a Legion Section reserved for veterans, and Legion volunteers brought the remembrance cross placements there.
The history of cross placements at other Cowichan cemeteries remains unclear, but over the past 15 years there has been a revival of interest in the practice and it has been reintroduced by a new generation of volunteers at nearly all of them. The work of adding names and locations goes on.
November 2018 will therefore be the 92nd anniversary of the Cowichan Valley remembrance tradition of having armed forces cadets and other volunteers place a small, white cross, decorated with a lapel poppy and sprig of cedar and delivered with a smart uniformed salute, on the grave of every known veteran in our community cemeteries.
The public is invited to attend a cross placement or visit one of the cemeteries in which veterans’ graves will be marked, both to honour the service and sacrifice of the Valley’s veterans, and to appreciate how today’s cadets and volunteers continue to respect this 92-year-old local custom.
The schedule for 2018 Veterans’ Remembrance Cross placements will be:
Saturday, Nov. 3
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Cowichan Station, 2475 Koksilah Road, Duncan, 11 a.m.
Saturday, Nov. 3
Starting at 1 p.m. at Shawnigan Cemetery, Shawnigan Lake, and continuing to New Heritage Museum (Mill Bay Methodist/United Church) and St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, Mill Bay.
For further details, call the Mill Bay/Malahat Historical Society at 250-743-0144.
Sunday, Nov. 4
St. John the Baptist Anglican Church, Cobble Hill, immediately after the 10 a.m. service, (approximately 11:15 a.m.)
For more information, call the parish office at 250-743-3095.
Sunday, Nov. 11
St. Peter’s Quamichan Anglican Church, Duncan
For further details, call the parish office at 250-746-6262.
Cedar Memorial Gardens in Cedar (250-722-2244), Royal Canadian Legion Branch 191 in Chemainus (250-246-3133) and Royal Canadian Legion Branch 210 in Lake Cowichan (250-749-6041) have cross placement traditions as well. Please call for more information about events at those locations.