Over Their Dead Bodies

First World War veterans don't want state funeral

I love this story. It recounts how the well-meaning Dominion Institute successfully lobbied the Canadian government to honour the death of the last surviving Canadian World War I veteran with a state funeral, despite the fact that none of the three remaining survivors wish to be honoured in this manner.

When I first heard of the initiative to hold a state funeral on this occasion, I was supportive. I was not one of the 100,000 Canadians who signed a petition supporting the measure, but I numbered among the 75% of Canadians who agreed. Until I heard what the vets themselves had to say.

Two additional features of the Institute's lobbying efforts concern me. Rudyard Griffiths, director of the Dominion Institute, has said that the final decision will be left entirely up to the veteran's family (quoted by CBC in an article dated November 6, 2006), not to the veterans themselves. Secondly, the article goes on to describe Griffiths' insistence on a state funeral because of its religious component and the importance of reflecting that veterans of the war "fought for a tolerant, peaceful, and open idea of Christianity." The absurdity of Christians taking up arms against other Christians to fight for peace would be funny if it were not actually believed.
I think it is incredibly disrespectful to these three men to continue to plan for a state funeral when one is customarily not granted to these individuals, and when they have clearly objected to doing so. I wonder how many Canadians would support such a measure over the objections of the men they mean to honour. While I agree that the death of the last surviving veteran will mark a watershed moment in our nation's history, some tribute other than a state funeral is warranted to honour the sacrifice of those who served Canada in World War I.

The image above is the introduction page from the Book of Remembrance for the First World War, a beautiful and moving tribute to Canadians who died in combat, "loyal to the Crown & faithful to the traditions of their fathers." It is part of a whole series of such books recording the names of Canada's fallen, prepared in the style of an illuminated manuscript. They are housed and displayed in the Peace Tower of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I first saw these books in 1998 or 1999, and the effect is haunting.

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