A comment on last Monday’s memorial to the Broad brothers at Calgary’s Central United Church got me thinking about how communities came together to show respect to those who had served in the war.
It seems that it was many years after the war before plaques were erected. In this case, 1923. Is there any explanation of the delay between the end of the war in 1918 and these expressions of remembrance? Did people, at first, feel their grief so profoundly that they could not think of things like plaques and statues? Was commemoration encouraged by the government or Church in the 1920s and we are seeing the results of that?
Good question. Several reasons, I suspect.
The early days after the armistice and peace treaty saw a wave of enthusiasm to memorialize unprecedented loss. Some looked to the Canadian government for information, artifacts and money for local monuments. The contribution: not much. The government faced huge war debts. Over time, it did erect national monuments in Ottawa and overseas. It also supported the Imperial War Graves Commission in establishing cemeteries and maintaining the graves. The decision to leave local commemoration to local discretion is an outcome with which I agree.
Public memorials were often the product of group efforts. It took time to form a committee, agree on a fitting type of commemoration, raise money, agree on the final form, gather the names to be honoured, determine the battles in which locals fought, find a suitable location, commission and execute the work, and so on. Community dynamics played a role. (You know what that’s like!)
I’ve observed a general trend that smaller or more cohesive groups were quicker to the draw … churches, service groups, companies and the like. A church congregation, for example, could more readily agree to mount a tablet on the wall, and would know the congregants who served and died. Some denominations even made pre-printed scrolls … just add name of church and list of names. In St. John’s, a Celtic cross was erected by the sergeants and warrant officers of the second battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in 1921 (only two years after the formal end of the war). It was the focal point of St. John’s memorial services until the (Newfoundland) National War Memorial was dedicated two years later. The Vimy Memorial was dedicated in 1936, the National War Memorial in Ottawa not until 1939.
Robert Shipley’s To Mark Our Place documents other factors that figured into the form and timing of memorial. His work is now 30 years old. Subsequent milestone anniversaries of the war have brought a renewed interest … as well as new memorials.
As for memorials to individuals, I have not yet seen a pattern in timing. They could be more spontaneous. The PEI convalescent hospital was named for nurse Rena MacLean in 1919, within a year of her death. The tablet for the Broad brothers dates from 1923. I found no reason for the timing, or indeed for the perceived need for “one of their friends” to erect it when they were already memorialized on the honour roll in the church.
I welcome your thoughts.