Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, June 7, 2020

When Canada's Unknown Soldier Returned Home

Detail: Canadian War Memorial, Ottawa

On 28 May 2000, a  long-lost son of Canada returned home for a national wake and a military funeral. An Unknown Soldier, buried in France for more than 80 years, was interred at the foot of the nation's war memorial.

Entrance to Caberet Rouge Cemetery

"Dear God, we receive the remains of Canada's Unknown Soldier as a holy trust," Brig. Gen. Murray Farwell, the chaplain general, said in a prayer when the remains were placed in Canadian care. The soldier had been buried under a gravestone bearing a maple leaf and the inscription "Known Unto God" at the Cabaret Rouge Commonwealth Cemetery at Souchez, France, located midway between Vimy Ridge and the massive French cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette.

Replacement Marker at the Original Grave Site

On Sunday 28 May, he was borne through the streets of Ottawa on a century-old gun carriage drawn by four black RCMP horses. Honor guards with rifles reversed in mourning marched in front to the slow beat of drums muffled by black cloth. Minute guns boomed 21 times as the procession moved between lines of silent onlookers.

Hundreds of veterans stood by the monument as the pallbearers—army, navy, air force, and Mounties—positioned the silver maple coffin over the hand-hewn Caledonian granite sarcophagus. It was draped in the maple leaf flag that this soldier never knew, a flag which, without him and his comrades, might never have been.

The National War Memorial

Brig. Gen. Murray Farwell, the Roman Catholic chaplain general, conducted the non-denominational service. He read from the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want" and recited the words of Ecclesiastes, "To every thing, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." 

Buglers from the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry sounded the "Last Post," the silver notes echoing and re-echoing over the square. After two minutes of silence, a lone piper skirled "Lament for the Unknown Soldier" and four CF-18 fighter-bombers screamed overhead, one pulling up and away to leave a gap in the "missing man formation."

Internment, 28 May 2000

Paul Metivier, a 100-year-old First World War vet and Ernest "Smoky" Smith, a Victoria Cross recipient of the Second World War, read the simple words of Laurence Binyon's "Act of Remembrance"—

They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning. We will remember them.

Final Resting Place of Canada's Unknown

Legion members filed past the tomb with bags, boxes, and urns to pour in a bit of soil from each province and territory, as well as soil from Vimy in France. The Unknown will lie in the soil of his homeland and that of the land where he died. Grand Chief Howard Anderson of the Gordon's Reserve north of Regina, poured in a mix of tobacco and sweet grass and added a ceremonial eagle feather. The traditional three volleys were fired by a lining party as the coffin was lowered. The grave was left with a temporary cover. It will be sealed with a granite lid, decorated with bronzes by sculptor Mary Ann Liu. The tomb is marked simply "The Unknown Soldier, Le Soldat Inconnu."

Sources: "The Legends and Traditions of the Great War" by Joyce M. Kennedy; Photos and additional commentary by Steve Miller.

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