Every year on November 11, people gather at New Brunswick Cenotaphs and war memorials to pay tribute to those who died in armed conflict. These memorials are more than just granite slabs; they are outward and visible signs of a nation in mourning. They are often large, intricate, and expensive, and serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought for our freedom.
The memorials in St. Stephen, Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton were erected at a cost of $20,000 each in the 1920s, which was a significant amount of money at that time. It is interesting to note that none of this money came from any sort of government organization, but was solicited from the general public. This shows the importance of these monuments to the communities and the people that built them.
In various instances, the construction of memorials proceeded without much debate or controversy. However, in other situations, extensive discussions occurred regarding the monument’s placement and purpose. Some communities considered building practical structures like hospital wings or memorial buildings, while others faced challenges in selecting appropriate sites. Researching historical accounts, especially in old newspapers, reveals intriguing conflicts among civic organizations over these decisions.
Cenotaphs were frequently established by temporary committees composed of distinguished local figures. For example, the War Memorial Committee in Fredericton was led by Mr. Justice Oswald Crockett, a future member of Canada’s Supreme Court. This committee included notable figures such as Lady Ashburnham, the Lord Bishop of Fredericton John Richardson, UNB Chancellor C.C. Jones, and the mayor. Despite the high profile of its members, little record of the committee’s activities survives.
Women’s groups, like the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, the Women’s Civic Council, and the Women’s Institute, also played a crucial role in organizing memorials. Many of these women had close relatives who had fought overseas. During the war, their efforts primarily involved supporting the military through fundraising, clothing drives, and knitting bees, a role that extended into the post-war period. These groups were instrumental in raising funds and offering support for memorial projects, even in communities where cenotaphs were spearheaded by ad hoc committees. Interestingly, veterans’ associations were not prominently involved in these memorial initiatives. The Great War Veterans Association, the largest of such groups, focused more on rehabilitating returning soldiers and aiding the families of the deceased.
A prevalent characteristic of most war memorials is the inclusion of an honor roll. Committees dedicated significant effort to compiling comprehensive lists of local men who perished in the conflict. These names were then inscribed onto bronze plaques and affixed to the memorials. Since fallen soldiers from the Great War were not brought back to their homelands, families often could not visit their graves. As a result, these memorials frequently served as surrogate gravesites for the deceased.
Beyond their commemorative function, these memorials offer a glimpse into the societal context of their time. The process of their construction and the narratives surrounding them reflect the essence of the communities involved. They frequently dominated local newspaper coverage for extended periods, involved substantial public expenditure, and garnered deep interest and involvement from the community members.
From an article by Thomas Littlewood.
Not all New Brunswick Cenotaphs are included in our gallery, only the ones we have found on our travels so far. We will add others are we discover them on our travels.
Fredericton bagpiper Peter McDougall was inspired by the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium, where a lament is played every evening as a tribute to those who fought in the First World War.
Remembrance Day 2018 marked 100 years since the end of that War.
On May 2, 1915, John McCrae experienced the loss of his close friend and former student, Alexis Helmer, who was killed by a German artillery shell. That night, McCrae, in the absence of a chaplain, recited passages from the “Order of the Burial of the Dead” from the Church of England to honor Helmer. The burial, held at Essex Farm Cemetery, had to be conducted under the cover of darkness for safety reasons.
The following day, May 3, 1915, while Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson was distributing mail, McCrae was seated at the rear of an ambulance parked near a dressing station by the Yser Canal, just north of Ypres in Belgium. It was here that McCrae began to pen the poem “In Flanders Fields.” Allinson, observing silently, later described McCrae as appearing weary but composed as he wrote, occasionally pausing to gaze towards Helmer’s grave.
Shortly after, McCrae completed the poem “In Flanders Fields.” In a quiet gesture, he then received his mail and handed the freshly written poem to Allinson.
Allinson was deeply moved:
“The (Flanders Fields) poem was an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.”
Click on a thumbnail to see more cenotaphs from around the province.
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