Our parish church is the regimental church of the Southern Alberta Light Horse. Their retired colours hang in the ceiling of the nave; a regimental memorial display sits at the rear of the south aisle, below the WWII Roll of Honour; and every November 11, we host a Remembrance Day service, beginning with prayers at the Church, followed by a procession to Light Horse Park on 104 St., where wreaths are laid at the cenotaph. I have participated in many different events for Remembrance Day, but the practice at Holy Trinity is special, bringing together in a highly explicit way the Christian faith and the public commemoration of our war dead.
Today’s service was better attended than any in the past, because Premier Rachel Notley attended and took a special role, reading a lesson from Micah, and a “Commitment to Service” at the end of the church prayers. It was standing room only. Ms Notley had attended our service for some years as the MLA for our area, and many of us had expected that she would be at one of the larger events around the city. Instead, she chose to continue her commitment to her constituency. I congratulate her for that. It’s too bad that the media mucked up the time, in one case announcing the service for 10:45 — we began at 9:45.
Another special element was the inspired preaching of our Rector. I have rarely seen him more passionate in the pulpit, delivering a truly heart-felt message of calling us to remember until the age to come is fully upon us.
It was a very good service, and many people commented on it. However, the thing that made it special for me was something very personal. My brother (the family historian) managed to find our grandfather’s service record on the website of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment. Grandpa Jack died one month before the Armistice in 1918. Our grandmother kept much of the story to herself: a very private person, for the rest of her life she grieved privately for the husband who had left her with three young children and a fourth on the way. A few years ago, my brother tracked down the location of his grave in France. We had hoped to visit it in 2013, in conjunction with a trip to a conference in Paris, which did not come to fruition. It remains on my bucket list.
His death had profound implications for our family. Granny moved from the Lake District in the north of England to Eastbourne, on the English Channel — about as far away as she could get and still be in England. My mother grew up with a horror of war, which I first really realized at the time of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. She took to her bed for days, terrified that war was coming. Her feelings about war conflicted with my father’s sense of duty, contributing to my own very mixed emotions around this day.
We didn’t have much more than a few sketchy details about the circumstances of Grandpa’s death. The entry on the regimental website explains much that I didn’t know before, including a wonderful testimony to my grandfather’s character. What this gave to me this morning as I watched wreaths being laid, as we stood in silence for two minutes, as the piper piped the lament, was a focus to my thoughts I had rarely had before. I found myself asking all kinds of “What if’s” What if he had not died? He would have returned to his medical practice, my mother’s life would have been vastly different. She would probably never have met my father — and I wouldn’t be standing here today.
The death of Cap’t William Boyd Jack in France on October 11, 1918 is in that sense one of the defining moments of my own life, even though it happened almost 30 years before I was born. How many others standing around that cenotaph had similar stories to tell? My Grandpa’s death seems at the same time heroic and futile — but utterly and profoundly important 97 years later.
Remembrance Day will never be the same for me again. I will always seek to remember, and to ask “What if?”