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Initiative sees Hinton students honour deceased veterans

Gerard Redmond students Althea Forteza (red jacket) and Nadine Revale place a poppy at the grave of a Hinton veteran during the No Stone Left Alone ceremony Nov. 4 at Woodlawn Cemetery in Hinton.
Tyler Waugh Photo

Masha Scheele

Fresh snow fell Nov. 4 at Woodlawn Cemetery as the names of local armed services veterans laid to rest there rang out in the morning air.

And for each name spoken, a handcrafted poppy was placed, its crimson a striking contrast to the white snow blanketing the ground around the headstone. 

The Gerard Redmond Community Catholic School (GRCCS) students who placed the poppies were there as part of the inaugural No Stone Left Alone initiative in Hinton.

Arleen Wambolt, who is the retired administrative assistant from GRCCS, first heard about the program when it began in Edmonton and felt it was important to bring it into the community of Hinton.

Wambolt contacted the No Stone Left Alone memorial foundation and approached Barbara Marchant, vice-principal of GRCCS, to get the program started.

“I immediately said that it was something our students would do and could do. Mostly because as a Catholic school we like stewardship. We like to do things in the community that brings the community together,” said Marchant

On top of the school’s regular Remembrance Day ceremony, Grade 6, 7, 8 and 12 students took part in No Stone Left Alone. The poppies were made by the Grade 6 religion class, who partnered up and placed the poppies on each headstone.

“I think as we move through generations, it’s become something that is more and more distant from students. I think in order to connect kids to the event and understand better why we have Remembrance Day and why we need to honour our veterans I think it’s one more thing that we can do to make that happen for them and to make that real,” said Marchant.

The official ceremony took place near the cenotaph in the cemetery and included prayers, readings, and a bagpipe performance of an official military funeral tune, Flowers of the Forest. The Rouse and the Last Post then played as a wreath was placed at the cenotaph, followed by the poppy laying protocol. Poppies stay on the headstones until the day after Remembrance Day.

The experience allowed students to go to the grave sites and say a solemn thank you through the poppy laying protocol, added Marchant.

“It’s just another piece to remind and connect us to what [veterans] did and how they served and how they continue to serve,” she said.

The program was initially launched in 2011 by Maureen G. Bianchini-Purvis in recognition of the sacrifice of the Canadian men and women who lost their lives in the service of peace, at home and abroad. Bianchini-Purvis honoured her own mother with a poppy each Remembrance Day in Edmonton and it became her mission that all the soldiers’ headstones would have a poppy placed in their honour.

Through this display the cemetery would resemble the idea of Flanders Fields where “the poppies grow, row on row.”

Wambolt identified 37 veterans in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Hinton. Among them is Lou Venance whose granddaugther, Sarah Olson, stood graveside while the poppy was placed and was grateful to have his service acknowledged by name.

“I think to date it’s been one of my favourite ceremonies attended. It was made very personal by the mention of their names and by the individual attention the students showed each of them,” said Olson.

“This was a really special ceremony and I was glad to have been there today to share it. I know the men and women who they honoured today would be proud of them and grateful for the recognition.”

Wambolt walked through the cemetery to find veterans, and also spoke to the Legion, the Town of Hinton, and researched online, but the headstones aren’t always easy to identify. Online databases identify people by names and dates, but with some information lacking on headstones it’s difficult to verify those that served.

“There might be 25 people with the same name in the database. So you don’t know if the person here is actually the person that served,” she explained.

She added that women most likely served under maiden names, which weren’t always included on headstones.

“I’m hoping that after it’s done this year, people will come forward and say that they have a family member or someone that served. I’m sure it will grow from year to year,” said Wambolt.

The goal of the program is to see all 117,000 veterans’ headstones in Canada being honoured with a poppy placed by a Canadian youth, and they are nearly halfway to that number, stated No Stone Left Alone website.