By Richard Lawrence
Ten years ago, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), the Department of National Defence (DND), and Beechwood Cemetery came together to amalgamate the four veterans sections within Beechwood Cemetery — the Last Post Field of Honour (Section #19), Veterans and War Dead (Section #29, managed by CWGC), the Field of Honour (Section #27, managed by VAC), and the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces (Section #103, managed by DND) — to create the National Military Cemetery. It is this amalgamation that was celebrated on September 13, 2017 at the Beechwood Cemetery’s Sacred Space.
The ceremony was divided into two parts: the first included addresses and a concert in the Sacred Space and the second a walking tour of the four sections with stops at notable graves along the way. BGen (ret’d) Gerald Peddle hosted the event. Among those addressing the small audience were LGen Charles Lamarre, Commander of Military Personnel Command, Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier Mona Fortier, and BGen (ret’d) David Kettle, Secretary General of the Canadian Agency for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Following the addresses, a 40-minute concert of music and song from the wars and interwar years was given by Andrew Ager (pianist/composer), Joan Fearnley (soprano) and Ian MacPherson (tenor).
The tour portion of the event was a bit of a walk, but it was a beautiful day so no one really minded. In section 103 it was noted that it was opened 16 years ago and that the central monument was unveiled by Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson on June 28, 2001. The National Military Cemetery is open to any Canadian military personnel, either still in uniform or honourably released; this includes veterans of the World Wars, Korea and the Canadian Merchant Navy. Also found in Section 103 is the tri-service monument, which is inscribed with a poem on each of its three sides, one for each service.
Interestingly, there is no separate area for officers or generals as plots are assigned as they are needed and all headstones are the same except for crests and religious symbols. All the headstones also face east so they may be kissed by the first light of the day.
The Field of Honour (Section #27) is reserved for the graves of those who fell during 19th to 21st century conflicts; the land was purchased from the Crown in 1944 but is now overseen by VAC and CWGC. It contains over 2,400 graves and is designed to be a hollow square: a military formation in which four sides of a square are formed, guns facing outward, so that every soldier knows that his back is covered by a mate, and the general and colours are protected in the centre.
In the centre of this section stands the Cross of Sacrifice. It is one of 26 such crosses, designated in 1918 to stand in military cemeteries hosting 40 or more Canadian graves. In one corner stands a Sherman tank and in two other corners are cannons.
The other two sections, although small, did have notable people resting there. BGen Kettle did note that some of the headstones differed from others in that those killed in battle had their service emblem (i.e. fouled anchor, CAF Maple Leaf, etc.) as the top element of the headstone whereas those who died of natural causes had a religious symbol (i.e. cross, Star of David, etc.) as their top element.
Following the tour, and stops for BGen Cruikshank, Gen Foulkes, Gen Crerar, and Gen McNaughton, everyone went back to the main building for a look at the Hall of Colours and then on to the reception.
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