For the sixth year in a row, Bob Collins began standing at attention at the Cobble Hill Cenotaph at exactly 6:56 a.m. Pacific time on Oct. 22.
That’s the time and date in 2014 when Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot in the back and killed as he stood ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
Collins, a former member of the Queen’s Own in Winnipeg, and a team of three other people with military backgrounds, including Keenan Hayes, a reservist with the North Saskatchewan Regiment, took turns standing at attention at the cenotaph until 11 a.m. on Oct. 23.
As well as Cirillo, the team were honouring the more than 2,600 Canadian soldiers who have lost their lives while on duty in Canada in non-combat roles since 1911.
Collins began the annual tradition the night of Cirillo’s death after a 92-year-old veteran told him he couldn’t sleep knowing that there was no honour guard at the Cobble Hill Cenotaph overnight in honour of Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent who was murdered in a hit-and-run by an Islamic extremist in Quebec just 48 hours before the attack on Cirillo.
The old veteran himself was going to stand watch, but Collins decided he wasn’t going to let that happen and held a vigil himself.
“It can get chilly at night, but we dress for it and we have a camper van parked nearby where we can warm up in between the shifts of standing on guard,” said Collins, who is also a member of Malahat District Legion, Branch #134, which organizes the event and an annual memorial service for the military members killed at home that was held on Oct. 19 this year.
The legion branch is the only one in Canada to hold a special event at its cenotaph to honour these fallen soldiers.
This is the third year in a row that Hayes has participated in the vigil.
Hayes said he was born and grew up in Nanaimo and he participates in the vigil when he comes home to visit every year.
“I don’t personally know anyone who has died in noncombat roles in Canada, but the military and our members with post-traumatic stress disorder are deep in my heart,” he said while standing at attention.
“I’ve seen a lot of PTSD and know what it can do to people. I’m proud to take part in this event.”
Neighbours and friends were expected to drop by with coffee and food during the vigil, and the nearby Cobblestone Pub is also supplying coffee, food and water to the participants.
“The key is to dress warmly and wear lots of socks,” Hayes said.