Vimy review at veterans' banquet


By Sheila Runions

Rivers Banner

Rivers Legion began hosting a Vimy Ridge banquet in 1964 for First World War veterans. More than 100 veterans from more than 20 branches would attend the meal, prepared by the auxiliary and served by Second World War veterans. As time and veterans passed, the tradition was slightly modified; women began serving Second War vets and in 1990 they officially changed the name to veterans’ banquet.

This year’s event was held Thursday, June 1; five veterans attended but 35 people (plus auxiliary workers) were present in the decorated upper hall. The veterans were Ivan Arnold, Percy Rosamond and Ken Williamson (all of Rivers), Timer Hyndman of Rapid City and Jack Houston of Kenton. Timer and Jack are the only veterans remaining in their communities; Rivers has five but Jim Wood and Phyllis Eastcott are now residents of Riverdale Personal Care Home and were unable to attend.

For years the banquet has included musical entertainment but this year’s version replaced the tunes with a first-hand account of Vimy Ridge. Brody Davis of Rivers was one of  seven cadets from Brandon’s Swiftsure Navy League to have their application accepted for a trip to Vimy Ridge to participate in the 100th anniversary celebrations there April 5-14 He was responsible to raise nearly $4,000 to cover travelling expenses; Branch 75 and auxiliary paid for more than 25 per cent of his goal with a donation of more than $1,000. He in turn, was more than willing to report on his experience in France.

Following official greetings from district, zone, branch and auxiliary, as well as thanks from Timer and Ron Radford (formerly of Rivers who was invited back to his home branch for the meal), Brody gave his presentation. He had a slide show with 50-some pictures and prepared a speech, which is reprinted here.

The word remembrance has a different meaning to everyone. For some it simply means thinking of the wars and all the soldiers that fell, or maybe they think of their brother or sister, father or mother, or a grandparent as I did. But now the word remembrance means a whole lot more to me, because now I have been exposed to the tragedy, destruction and nightmares of war. 

As long as I can remember I have been interested in the World Wars, so when the opportunity came up to visit the battlefields that I had read about in books and had seen in so many movies, I jumped on it as fast as I could. But what I thought was going to be a fun trip full of games and lollygagging, was far from reality. Because as soon as I stepped on the battlefields where my fellow Canadians had fought gallantly, it was as though I was a sponge, because all the emotions immediately absorbed into me. Confusion, anger, but most of all sadness. Sadness because of the losses of fathers, brothers and uncles that were proud to say they had served. But for many, they didn’t even make it home to proudly walk through their towns in their uniforms and say they served for freedom of their country. 

As I walked through the battlefields and the cemeteries of the fallen soldiers, there were three lines that were repeated in my mind over and over: “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row.” To this day I still do not know why that was, but I think it might have been my outlook of remembrance being changed forever. 

The day I had a chance to walk around Tyne Cot, I was grimly astonished to find a 19-year-old soldiers ‘grave. I then stopped to read the stone further. It read, “Believed to be buried in this cemetery.” I paused, then called over my friend; he walked over to me and read the headstone. I read the bottom of the stone and there was only one word: “missing.” At this point, this was the youngest soldier I had found. 

Later on in my trip, we stopped at John McCrae’s hospital. After I got off the bus, I began to walk around Flanders Fields looking at the graves. I eventually came across a very decorated grave. I read the grave as I always did, and I was shocked to see that the soldier who lies there was only 15 years old — one-five. I myself am 15 years old. I could never imagine standing in a deep, wet, cold, smelly trench at my age, and constantly being shot at and bombed. I couldn’t mentally or physical endure that. 

Brody then explained that part of his trip’s requirement was to research one solider, James Arthur Stevenson of Fort William, Ont. He was killed on his first day in Passchendaele  (Oct. 26, 1917 at age 28) and was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal and War Medal, and his name was engraved on a memorial plaque and scroll on Nov. 7, 1917.

With his official presentation over, he concluded with, “Before I end this, I’d like to get Shirley Kamula to come up here so I can give her a little bit of World War 1. This whole town helped me get there and this whole town should enjoy this. I hope she will get them planted where I believe they belong, at the cenotaph. These are poppies [seeds] from Flanders Fields. I want this town to enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the trip. Thank-you everyone, for inviting me to be a part of this evening; I hope you enjoyed all I had to say.”