By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories — It’s a job no one would ever want, and yet it is a great honour.
Sheila Anderson of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, whose year as the 2015/2016 National Memorial (Silver) Cross Mother ended October 31, is the first Silver Cross Mother from the Northwest Territories. She carries on a long-standing tradition that began in 1936, almost 80 years ago.
Mrs. Anderson sadly became eligible for this solemn duty on July 4, 2007 when her eldest son, Corporal Jordan Anderson, died at the age of 25 when a roadside bomb killed six Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, as well as an Afghan interpreter, in the Panjwaii district southwest of Kandahar City. Cpl Anderson was just weeks from the end of his second six-month tour in Afghanistan.
Cpl Anderson was survived by his widow, Amanda Anderson; his mother; his father, James Anderson; and his three younger brothers: Benjamin, Mathew and Samuel.
He was a member of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton, Alberta. Born in 1981 in Iqaluit, Nunavut, he joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2000 in Regina, Saskatchewan.
A Memorial Cross Mother, more commonly known as a Silver Cross Mother, is chosen every year by the Royal Canadian Legion to represent all Canadian mothers who have lost children in military service in action, in the course of their normal duties or whose deaths were later attributed to their service. She lays a wreath on behalf of bereaved mothers of all Canada’s Fallen at the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa each November 11. During her year-long tenure, which begins November 1st, she may perform other official duties honouring the Fallen from all conflicts.
The Memorial Cross was instituted following the First World War in 1919 as a memento of personal loss and sacrifice. It can be worn any time by the recipients, even though they are not themselves veterans. The crosses are engraved with the name and service number of the fallen family member. Initially, they were only awarded to mothers, then to widows as well. The criteria were recently updated to reflect the evolution of Canadian society and now soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen may designate three recipients who may be family or non-family members, regardless of gender. When Captain Nichola Goddard became the first Canadian woman to be killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2006, her husband Jason Beam became the first widower to receive the Memorial Cross.
On June 13, 2016, Mrs. Anderson addressed the Royal Canadian Legion’s 46th Biennial Dominion Convention, saying, “I would like to thank the Legion for choosing me as your Silver Cross Mother for 2015-16. It is a great honour, though I insist that this honour is bestowed upon my whole family, to my sons – Ben, Matt and Sam and to my husband James – all of whom have supported and encouraged me to participate and be true to my mission …which is a continuation of our deceased son Jordan’s sentiments, which were: ‘To remember the dead of course – and importantly to attend to the living veterans, with commitment and conviction.’”
Mrs. Anderson then spoke with pride of her son’s contribution to Canada’s mission. She also spoke of the need for swifter government support to veterans in the areas of physical and mental health issues, employment problems and reintegration needs, including rehabilitation and renovation of housing for injured veterans.
“It is not my goal to re-define the role of the Silver Cross Mother as an activist, however it is impossible for me to remain silent when this appointment affords me the opportunity to assist veterans in any way that I can,” she concluded.
Mrs. Anderson also combined her love of cycling with helping raise funds through the Boomer’s Legacy Ridefrom Comox to Victoria in July 2015. Funds raised through this program are used to help Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
She currently works for the government of the Northwest Territories and recently completed a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration from the University of Northern British Columbia in 2015.
Mrs. Anderson looks back on her year-long experience as Silver Cross Mother in the interview which follows.
Q: Why did you decide to become the Silver Cross Mother for 2015/16?
A: I was invited to represent Silver Cross Mothers by Legion Command and jumped at the opportunity to represent families of fallen soldiers. I also took advantage of the opportunity to bring attention to the surviving Veterans of recent conflicts. It was such an honour to be chosen, how could I refuse?
Q: Tell us about the support you received from the Legion in your role as Silver Cross Mother.
A: The Legion was pretty quiet about what would happen until we got quite close to November 1st, the date that the name of the new Silver Cross Mother is usually announced. Mr. Danny Martin was my support officer and he was terrific. He was kind, positive, very emotionally supportive, patient and gave me as much information as he could.
I must say that nothing could have prepared me for the barrage and intensity of interviews, photo requests and recognition that I encountered and received.
My husband and I were escorted to all planned events from interviews to lunch with the Honourable David Johnston and his wife at Rideau Hall. We were escorted to the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in Ottawa along with other dignitaries. We received a tour of Parliament Hill, Centre Block, the Peace Tower and the Books of Remembrance.
Q: What was the reaction of your husband, your other three sons and other family to your role as the Silver Cross Mother?
A: My sons were thrilled when they found out that I would be the Silver Cross Mother. That said; it was the first year that we were apart for Remembrance Day since Jordan died. James was supportive and of course participated in every way that he was invited.
Q: How do you feel about being the first Silver Cross Mother for the Northwest Territories?
A: Though I may be the first one chosen from the Northwest Territories I believe there are many Moms in this Territory who lost children to war. I feel a kinship with all of them, as well as the hundreds of families in Canada who have suffered this loss.
Grieving for lost children is not the exclusive purview of Moms. Whole families and extended families feel this loss right along with us. Dads, siblings, wives, children, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends and comrades feel the loss too. We must not lose sight of the collective just because this tradition recognizes Moms. But I do think that Moms put a particular human emotional face to this sort of death.
Wartime loss is unlike any other by comparison. In our case, for example, we could not “identify”’ our son’s body. That had been done at the site of his death in Afghanistan. We could not go to the site of his death. In that respect, some of the closure is missing. This applies to all families who lost children and spouses in war locations.
In past wars, indeed some families were never notified because their family members were deemed “missing in action.” That fear of the unknown and loss must have been unbearable.
Q: What were your thoughts as you laid the wreath on Remembrance Day last year on behalf of all the mothers who have suffered a similar loss?
A: I feel kinship with others grieving the loss of loved ones to war. It is not exclusive to Moms.
I do not see remembrance as a topic exclusively about the dead, but also as an opportunity to pay homage to those soldiers who returned home to tell their unfiltered tales. They need our support so much more than we recognize. I have asked that we reflect on their contributions and sacrifice as well.
Q: Did you feel the history of all the Silver Cross Mothers who have done the same since 1936?
A: There is a long-standing history to this tradition and I believe that every Mom who has served in this capacity has felt that she did so as a family representative of the grieving. This was not only a personal event for me but an opportunity to represent all of us who grieve lost loved ones as a result of war.
Q: What other duties have you performed during your year as the Silver Cross Mother?
A: I was honoured to be invited to speak at the Legion Annual Convention in St. John’s, Newfoundland this June.
Q: Have you visited the Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower? Were you able to view your son’s name?
A: Yes, that was one of the activities that we participated in while in Ottawa for Remembrance Day.
We were struck by the numbers of names on each page. Pages from Afghanistan had as few as one or two names, while pages from the World Wars were so full of names that the print was not much bigger than 14 sized font. This really spoke to us about how fortunate we are to have lost so few to war since then.