Dawson continues to remember
This year, like always, a parade of 200 men, women and children carrying banners and flags, and wearing poppies of remembrance will march to the Port Coquitlam cenotaph.
But Jim Dawson won’t be among them.
The longtime parade marshal for PoCo’s Remembrance Day ceremonies will be busy making sure the wreaths are ready and doing other tasks for today’s ceremony honouring PoCo’s war veterans.
Forty wreaths will be placed on the granite cenotaph in Veterans Park in front of city hall and by the end of the morning, hundreds of tiny red poppies will be added, creating a splash of colour on a potentially grey autumn day.
“We’re just putting a body to rest and honouring the vets,” Dawson says of the hour-long ceremony that takes place at the cenotaph after indoor ceremonies at Wilson Centre.
But despite his other tasks today, he will miss marching with the colour party and organizing the veterans, police officers, firefighters and youth groups into marching formation as parade marshal and sergeant at arms.
He has done the job for about 20 years but had to give up this year because of health reasons and says, “I’m sad about it.”
As he prepared to hand over the duties to Dale Smith, a younger Legion member, Dawson recalled the simple ceremony of remembrance that takes place each Nov. 11, with its honour guard, poetry, timeless hymns and raw, fresh emotion for tragedies long in the past.
He’s an expert on the details, knows the words to the Act of Remembrance by heart and can hum “Reveille,” which a trumpet player will play in solemn reverence at the beginning of the ceremony. In fact, Dawson, who joined the Legion 40 years ago, can describe every moment of the hour-long ceremony.
Remembrance Day has many traditions and a set agenda that has remained the same for a generation. First, the colour party arrives with 10 flags representing Canada, Britain, B.C., the armed forces and the United Nations led by the Port Coquitlam Pipe Band. Once everyone is settled, the Last Post is played to honour veterans who have passed on. There is “Reveille,” a prayer and the roll call of those who have passed. Government officials place their wreaths at the cenotaph, Rev. Brian Burke will give prayers and a benediction, and “God Save the Queen” will be sung. At the end, before the poppies are removed from lapels and placed on the cenotaph, a ceremony called Retire the Silent Guard will take place. That’s when the commander quietly withdraws the sentries at the four corners of the cenotaph.
These traditions may be lost on new generations of young people but Dawson hopes not. He believes the Legion is doing a good job educating children and hopes they will continue with the ceremonies once older vets pass on.
“I always felt it was important to honour the vets,” he said. “When I look at what this country has provided for me and my family and the vets who died in World War I and World War II...” Dawson doesn’t finish his sentence but it’s clear Remembrance Day means a great deal to him. It could be because his dad and uncles both fought in the First World War but Dawson counts many Legion vets among his friends, too.
His younger colleague, Smith, who will be parade marshal this year, also believes it is important to pass on the traditions to younger generations, like himself. His father fought in the Second World War and was a sergeant.
Says Smith: “I just like to be involved.”
By the time many people read this article, the Remembrance Day service will likely be over and the wreaths and poppies packed up for another year. But for those who stood out in the cold, it will be hard to shake the feelings of sadness.
There is a debt that must be paid to those “who shall grow not old” by those who have been left behind, and for Jim Dawson, the act of remembrance is the least they can do.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them
– Act of Remembrance, an extract from the poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon