It’s a simple gesture — but to hundreds of soldiers and their families all over the world, the placing of a poppy on the headstone of a fallen comrade is a symbol of respect, and more importantly, a reminder to veterans that we will remember them.
That’s the message W.L. Seaton teacher Yvonne Fiala, hopes students will take away from the No Stone Left Alone ceremony held at Pleasant Valley Cemetery on Wednesday morning.
The ceremony, organized by Fiala and Lawrna Myers, of the Vernon and District Family History Society, saw 130 students from three local schools gather to pay their respects to fallen veterans in a brief remembrance service before placing more than 500 poppies on local military grave sites.
In the weeks leading up to the ceremony Fiala, who introduced the concept to Vernon schools last year after participating in a cemetery tour lead by Myers, said she and her colleagues at the participating schools; W.L. Seaton Secondary School, Vernon Secondary School and Beairsto Elementary School assigned Remembrance projects, including research on First World War and Second World War veterans.
“The goal is to get the students reflecting a little bit more as we get closer to Remembrance Day, and to encourage them to learn more about Canada’s rich history of service to their country,” Fiala explained.
“I find they come to realize how much sacrifice was involved with military service, and it makes it a bit more real seeing local names.”
“It gives them the feeling that these men and women are more than just a name on a list their teacher gave them,” Myers echoed.
“Especially if the name they are assigned to research is someone buried right here in Vernon, because then they are given the opportunity to lay a poppy on their gravestone. I think that really helps them connect.”
Through research initiated by the family history society several years ago, Myers said 550 military graves have been identified and marked in the Vernon cemetery. She said there will be many more to mark as the society continues with the project. Wednesday’s ceremony, she noted, was one of dozens hosted by, or on behalf of the No Stones Left Alone Memorial Foundation that took place in communities across Canada on Nov. 1.
The Edmonton-based non-profit organization, founded by Maureen G. Bianchini-Purvis in 2011, aims to honour our fallen military while educating students of the sacrifice made by Canadian veterans, by placing poppies at their headstones every November.
For VSS student Brianne Bertram, the project became something of a personal passion after the Vernon teen learned she shared the same last name as the soldier she was assigned to research.
“He was from Australia, my family is from Scotland, so we aren’t related as far as a I know, but it would be cool if we were,” she noted.
“I still thought the process of learning all this, and then being able actually place a poppy on his headstone was really impactful — to be part of something all these other people are doing for these soldiers who might not have family left to leave poppies for them — it feels like we’re really doing a good thing.”