OTTAWA — The man in line to be Canada’s next king joined Prime Minister Stephen Harper and thousands of others to pay tribute to the country’s war dead at a packed national Remembrance Day ceremony Wednesday.
Prince Charles, colonel-in-chief of three Canadian regiments, donned a full military uniform with the insignia of lieutenant-general as he laid a wreath at the foot of the towering National War Memorial.
It was the start of a royal day of tribute to the military. The prince later went to nearby CFB Petawawa where he paid tribute to soldiers and offered sympathy to the families of those killed in battle.
Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, titular commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces, also wore a dress uniform in a rare display as she walked beside the prince and laid a wreath on behalf of the Queen. Her epaulets and cuffs carried the lion insignia of her office.
Along with Gen. Walter Natynczyk, their uniforms gave an unusual martial appearance to the front ranks of the ceremony.
Della Marie Morley of East Saint Paul, Man., this year’s Silver Cross mother, was on hand representing all grieving families. Her son, Cpl. Keith Morley, was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 18, 2006, while serving with the 2nd battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
The ritual began in bright sunshine and cool temperatures with a choir singing “O Canada” and a bugler playing the haunting notes of “The Last Post.”
The crash of an artillery piece and the tolling of the Peace Tower clock sounding the hour of 11 a.m. heralded the two-minute silence.
The hush was broken by the crack of a second gun as a piper sent the keening notes of “The Lament” over the wide plaza around the memorial.
As a children’s choir sang “In Flanders Fields,” the dignitaries placed their wreaths in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier at the foot of the 21-metre-tall memorial.
Other wreaths were presented on behalf of the Forces, the Royal Canadian Legion, and other veterans’ groups. Young people laid one on behalf of the country’s youth.
Dozens of diplomats laid row upon row of wreaths along the granite flanks of the monument.
On the plaza, hundreds of veterans, many frail and bundled against the cold, sat with moist eyes as padres offered prayers and poet Laurence Binyon’s pledge of remembrance was spoken: “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.”
Most Second World War vets are in their late 80s. Korean War vets are in their late 70s.
The wreath-laying ceremony concluded with the piped strains of Amazing Grace.
The spectators included 17-year-old Anastasia Burtnick of Winnipeg, the national Sea Cadet of the year, and 91-year-old Robert Guy, a Second World War paratrooper.
“It was just breathtaking,” said Burtnick. “Just watching the expressions on the vets’ faces … it makes you think of all they’ve been through.”
Guy said the huge turnout was overwhelming.
“It’s made my 91st birthday — 91 years, and I never thought I’d see it.”
Some onlookers arrived hours beforehand, but shrugged off the chill and said it was worth the wait.
“The day is great, and our veterans, there are fewer in number as the years go by, but it’s always so wonderful to see them,” said Dorothy Goubault of Douglas, Ont.
She said it was a bonus to have the prince and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, at the service.
“It means a lot, I think.”
Susan McKendry of Ottawa, said it was important for her to mark the occasion, but not because of the royal couple.
“I came for Remembrance Day. I’ve been doing it for six years in a row now. I’m a daycare teacher and every day last week we talked about it, and the kids know why I am here.”
Later, in Petawawa, hundreds of soldiers and their families waited for the prince and wife Camilla in a cavernous hangar. CFB Petawawa is home to the Royal Canadian Regiment, of which the prince is colonel-in-chief.
The prince went through the crowd, stopping again and again to chat, squeeze an arm or pat a shoulder.
He paused by one soldier with a wounded arm.
“It went straight through?” he asked. “Can you lift it?”
The soldier gingerly raised his bent right arm as high as his shoulder.
The prince gave a brief interview, in which he urged Canadians to recognize the “enormous debt of gratitude” owed the men and women fighting in Afghanistan.
“I certainly don’t take for granted what they do, because it is quite remarkable how many people are prepared to give such service.
“And thank goodness, if I may say so, that there’s such support from the Canadian public for what they’re doing, which is the great thing when you’re out there, feeling that you have all that support behind you.”
He said he’s especially proud of “his” three Canadian regiments.
“For me, it’s a great opportunity to see at least some of them today and just express how much appreciation, for what it’s worth, I feel, for the role they play.”
He said it’s difficult to find words of comfort for bereaved families.
“But the least we can do is to offer them our sympathy and understanding and support, and of course the fact that what their loved ones did will never be forgotten.”
Canadians remembered their war dead in many commemorations held across the country and around the world, from Korea to Kandahar, wherever Canadian soldiers are stationed.
A separate ceremony was held at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa, a couple of kilometres east of the war memorial, where a number of the dead from Afghanistan are buried.
In Kandahar, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Industry Minister Tony Clement and representatives of the families of seven dead soldiers took part in ceremonies at a marble cenotaph that carries the names of 133 Canadian soldiers killed since 2002.
Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, compared the sacrifices in Afghanistan to those of previous generations.
“We are reminded today that former generations have had to fight, have had to endure hardship and have sacrificed to win freedom for Canada and people around the world.”
In Hamilton, McMaster University announced it will offer four years of free tuition and first-year residence and meal fees to the children of Canadian soldiers killed in military action.
Similar scholarships are also offered by Memorial University in Newfoundland, the University of Ottawa, the University of Windsor and the University of Calgary.
Ceremonies also proceeded in Fredericton and Woodstock, Ont., despite vandalism against the local cenotaphs.
The tall marble cross atop the Fredericton memorial was toppled and broken on the weekend. The Woodstock memorial was spray-painted with a swastika overnight and the symbol was still visible despite cleanup efforts.
Nonetheless, thousands turned out in Fredericton, including many soldier and families from the nearby military base at Gagetown.
The Woodstock ceremony also went ahead, with Mayor Michael Harding calling the vandalism “truly sacrilegious.”
The prime minister earlier issued a message saying Canada’s military endeavours are part of its heritage.
“We must keep the torch of remembrance burning for future generations to come.
“Let us never forget these brave men and women whose sacrifice served to make life better for others. We must remember, not just today, but every day.”