Our turn to carry the torch

Bells peeled and sirens pierced the air at dawn on Nov. 11, 1918. Parisians rushed out of their homes cheering, shouting and waving torches. “The war to end all wars” was finally over.

Neighbours hugged each other with joy and relief. It was a noisy, happy chaotic celebration.

The 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended WWI was more subdued.

Close to a thousand citizens gathered at the Paris Cenotaph to honour those killed in war.

They acknowledged the horrendous cost of war: lives cut short, families shattered, communities stripped of their young talent. They imagined the massacres at Passchendaele, Vimy Ridge and Ypres. They renewed their pledge never to forget the sacrifice of a generation that fought so bravely.

Ninety-four soldiers and one nursing sister from Paris were killed between 1914 and 1918 or succumbed to their injuries in the months afterward. For a town of just 4,200, it was a devastating blow.

This year’s Remembrance Day ceremony held special significance — partly because it marked the centenary of the Armistice that ended WWI; but also because two new stones had been erected at the cenotaph correctly identifying every individual lost in WWI and WWII.

These pristine stones, a year and a half in the making, had been dedicated just two weeks earlier. They stood like sentinels against the grey sky as the crowd gathered to mark Remembrance Day. Over the course of the morning, their appearance was softened by dozens of wreaths; laid by descendants of the fallen, schoolchildren, police officers, firefighters, politicians, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, and representatives of local churches, service clubs and charitable organizations.

Marie Williamson, accompanied by Carol Goar, laid a wreath on behalf of the Paris Museum and Historical Society.

“They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,” said Reverend Canon Mario Hryniewicz at the ceremony. “Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

The crowd repeated the familiar words: “We will remember them.”

The Ayr-Paris Band played hymns of remembrance. The Paris-Port Dover Pipe Band added the skirl of bagpipes.

As a lasting reminder, members of Branch 29 of the Royal Canadian Legion gave everyone a bookmark inscribed with John McCrae’s poignant Word War I poem, In Flanders Fields.

After the benediction, families walked home together or warmed up in local restaurants and coffee shops. A few lingered to get a close look at the monument with its two new stones.

Similar ceremonies were held across the country, uniting Canadians in a moment of gratitude and remembrance.

The Paris Museum presented a slideshow of portraits of those paid the ultimate price. The pictures are part of its Fred Bemrose collection. Bemrose, a founder and early curator of the museum, spent years diligently collecting photos of everyone who served.

At 5 pm, church bells tolled across Paris in a final tribute to the soldiers, sailors, nurses, airmen who made the supreme sacrifice.

– by Carol Goar