I have to admit that I was once again deeply moved and very impressed by this year’s Remembrance Day services. Every Fall I worry that we are not doing enough to say “thank you” to all those who stepped up to defend our freedom, and every year I’m more impressed than the last at how we, as a nation remember the countless thousands who served.
My big surprise this year came when I saw a TV commercial from ancestry.ca, who were offering free access to Canadian military records on Remembrance Day. Normally, Ancesrty.ca is a pricy service that lets you search for information on your family history, so getting a chance at a free search seemed like a nice way to see what information was available on both of my grandfathers, one who served with the Canadian army and the other with the British army.
After entering the search criteria, I quickly found myself reading the induction documents from the Canadian army. A few clicks later and I was reading the notes that were filed detailing his decorations and medals.
The search for information on my father’s father was somewhat successful, but between restrictions from Ancestry.ca and what would appear to be poor record keeping by the British Army, the documentation available was more limited.
Now that I was on a roll, my wife suggested that we look up he uncle who was killed in France in 1944. A complete bomb out at Ancestry.ca. My guess is that they don’t have access to World War II records, so there was no information available. So we expanded our search to the Book of Remembrance which lists every Canadian killed in action. Again we entered the search criteria, knowing his name and year of death, we quickly found ourselves on page 460 of the Book. I’ve visited the Book of Remembrance before, but this time I discovered that there is more information if you scroll down beyond the fancy script, listing everybody on the page with a link for more information.
This page was a little sad because there was really no information about the person. It listed his rank, the date he was killed, plot information, a map of the cemetery and a link to his marker, but nothing about the man, who he was, his family other than his parents name and city of residence, but nothing else.
As it turns out, my wife is the custodian of her family’s memorabilia, so we dug out her records, found some pictures of Uncle Lloyd, scanned them into the computer and uploaded them to the people who manage the Book of Remembrance. Our hope is that next year, when family and the curious visit the Book, they will see Uncle Lloyd in a picture with his mother, and remember that all the names listed have parents, families and friends who were devastated when they heard of his or her death. In fact, when you think about it, with disk space being so inexpensive and technology so robust, that it would be a great idea for all of us to go through our family records and make sure that everybody who died in the service of this country be remembered as a person, with pictures and anything else that puts a human face to their memorial.
My Remembrance Day this year finished on a high mark when I got to my email to send the information I had found to other family members, and found two messages. One from my second cousin with a picture of my Uncle Rod with a plane he flew and one from my son with a picture of his Grandfather taken as he prepared to go to England in 1944.
Maybe we are maturing as a country, as Canadians from sea to shining sea do seem to have carried the torch a little further this year.