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One Lives in Hope of Becoming a Memory

One Lives in Hope of Becoming a Memory

By Jennifer Dodd

I recently came across this quote, and it struck me as particularly fitting, given the time of year, and our profession. In the Death Care Profession, many of us feel as though we have a particular duty to ensure that our veterans and war dead are honoured and remembered with grace and dignity. 

As Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth countries nears, we are reminded of the men and women who have served, and continue to serve during times of war, as well as peace. Veterans Day is observed in the United States on 11 November. However, the function of the observance elsewhere is more closely matched by Memorial Day in May.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

I recently spoke with Dominique Boulais, Public Relations and Secretariat Manager, Canadian Agency, of the Commonwealth Graves Commission (CWGC). Dominique had presented at theWestern Cemetery Association Conference in September, and I was interested in learning more about the Commission’s mandate and responsibilities. 

The CWGC’s main responsibility is to ensure that the 1.7 million who lost their lives during the two world wars will not be forgotten, and the sound maintenance of their records.  The Commission oversees the care for cemeteries and memorials at over 23,000 locations, in over 150 Countries. It only oversees the burial sites of the war dead that passed during the designated years of August 4, 1914 – August 31, 1921 and September 3, 1939 – December 31, 1947.The principles of the Commission are: each of the dead should be commemorated by name on the headstone or memorial; headstones and memorials should be permanent and uniform, and; no distinction can be made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed.

While some common features are necessary to ensure that all war dead are honoured equally, architects of individual cemeteries were encouraged to follow the guidelines, while also responding to the local environments.  Many have their own unique characters, while more or less conforming to a similar pattern.

A few of the common structural features include surrounding stone walls and wrought-iron gates.  In cemeteries with a minimum of 40 graves, the Cross of Sacrifice will be present.  A simple cross with a bronze sword, it was designed to represent the faith of the majority. Cemeteries with at least 1000 grave will have a Stone of Remembrance, which was designed to commemorate those of all faiths, and thus is designed in such a way that the shapes are not associated with any particular religion.

The headstones themselves are to be uniform, with the inscriptions being the only aspect to differentiate them.  Inscriptions often include; the national emblem or regimental badge, rank, name, unit, date of death, age, a religion symbol or a personal dedication selected by the family. If there is a risk of earth movement, the graves are replaced by bronze plaques on slightly raised pedestals.

Last Post Fund

Another program designed specifically for fallen veterans is the Last Post Fund. The Fund operates a program on behalf of Veterans Affairs Canada, whose primary objective is to ensure that no Veteran is denied a dignified funeral and burial due to lack of sufficient funds at time of death.There are a number of service and financial criteria that must be met for eligibility, however recent changes to the Veterans Burial Regulation Guidelines have had a positive impact on eligibility and access.  Please see here . Allied veterans are now eligible, and the funeral services reimbursement rate has risen from $3600, to $7376.  As of the 2014 federal budget, there is also no longer a distinction between “traditional” versus “modern day” Veterans. Regulations governing the Funeral and Burial Program had previously stipulated that only Second World War and Korean Veterans, and those in receipt of disability compensation, were eligible for the program, leaving out most of the more than 600,000 Modern-Day Veterans, who have also served their country, and are more than deserving of being recognized in this way.

The Last Post Fund also manages an Unmarked Grave Program, whose objective is to provide a permanent military-style marker for eligible Veterans with graves that have not been marked with a permanent headstone or foot marker for 5 years or more.  Requests for a grave marker may come from a number of sources, such as the Veteran’s family, estate or friend, a Legion Service Officer, other Veterans organizations, a municipal authority or a cemetery official.

Undoubtedly, many of us will be spending some time over the next few days commemorating, thanking, and honouring those who have and are currently serving.  As Remembrance Day passes, we should all make a concentrated effort to continue showing our support in meaningful ways.  Do you have unmarked Veteran graves in your Cemetery?  Perhaps a project for the New Year could be reaching out to the Last Post Fund and embarking on a mission to honour these Veterans.