PHOTOS: Hundreds of elementary school students remember Vancouver’s war dead

Vancouver Courier

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No Stone Left Alone ceremony at Mountain View cemetery
No Stone Left Alone ceremony at Mountain View cemetery, Nov. 7, 2018 (Photo by Dan Toulgoet)

Leah Moffatt is thankful for women’s rights. Kaitlyn Phillips thinks she has a good life in Canada.

Isabella Remedios thinks about the six million Jews who died in concentration camps. Marcel Yohanna pledges never to forget them.

They’re heady concepts that are top of mind this time of year.

It’s worth noting that those wishes of thanks, and thoughts of remembrance, were put out to the universe by 10 year olds who’ve known nothing but peace.

And they were recited in the westernmost section of Mountain View Cemetery, known as Jones 45, which serves as the final resting place for thousands of Canadians who died in the two world wars, the Korean War and in Afghanistan.

About 250 kids, all under the age of 12, convened at the cemetery for a ceremony called No Stone Left Alone. They were flanked by 25 members of Canada’s Armed Forces who are based in Vancouver, each of whom helped students place ornamental poppies atop tombstones for kids as young as 16 who died in the First World War.

“I hope the Canadian soldiers who died can hear us so they can know how thankful we are for them,” Yohanna said. “And we’re not going to forget them.”

Yohanna’s Grade 5 classmates from Richmond’s St. Joseph the Worker school followed.

“I’m thankful for all the Canadian soldiers who did not give up and gave us freedom in Canada,” Remedios said. “It would be different without the soldiers who went to war for our freedom.”

“Today we are remembering all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives so our country could be free to make choices,” Phillips said.

“We also remember the soldiers that went to Afghanistan to fight for women’s rights,” Moffatt added. “If I were in Afghanistan at that time, I don’t know how I would have lived.”

No Stone Left Alone began in Alberta in 2011. The format varies slightly between ceremonies, though one takeaway is constant: headstones are left with physical tokens of remembrance. In some instances that keepsake is a poppy.

A Grade 2 teacher at St. Mary’s, Catherine Moffatt helped organize the ceremony. Her grandmother served in Great Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, while her grandfather was a soldier in the Second World War. Her daughter Leah spoke as part of the ceremony.

Photo by Dan Toulgoet

Where last year’s inaugural event included kids from St. Mary’s only, Wednesday’s ceremony consisted of students from Richmond (St. Joseph the Worker school), Burnaby (St. Helen’s) and Langley (St. Catherine’s Catholic elementary school).

The hour-long ceremony included prayers and a singing of O Canada. “In Flanders Field” was recited and a ceremonial wreath was laid before the Cross of Sacrifice, a commemorative feature found in Commonwealth cemeteries across the world.

The “Last Post” was played over speakers as soldiers stood at attention. Like last year, Major Alex Haussmann of Canadian Army Headquarters led the procession on behalf of the 25 military personnel assembled.

Photo by Dan Toulgoet

“We put a lot of focus on the age of the person who’s listed on the stone because for a lot of these kids, it’s the age of a parent or perhaps a brother,” Haussmann said. “Everybody can then understand, if not relate to, the actual person who is being remembered. When you have that one little connection and then look across an entire graveyard, I think it comes to you even at this age, the significance of what you’re looking at.”

Photo by Dan Toulgoet
Photo by Dan Toulgoet
Photo by Dan Toulgoet
Photo by Dan Toulgoet
Photo by Dan Toulgoet