by Allan Stanley
During a tour of Parliament Hill in August, Eileen and I and a friend came across the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower.
This is where the seven Books of Remembrance are kept that commemorate the lives of more than 118,000 Canadians who, since Confederation, have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country in uniform.
Every morning, at eleven o’clock, the pages of the Books of Remembrance are turned by a member of the House of Commons Protective Service Staff. As my Uncle Raymond had fallen in Italy in the Second World War, I was curious how long it would be before his page would appear and discovered it would be in only three weeks.
The public is welcome to attend this ceremony so we made arrangements to return on that day. A week later we received an official notification with details guiding us back to the Chamber on September 28. Upon arrival we realized we were the only two there for the ceremony that day.
When we arrived we were told how the ceremony would unfold and where we were permitted to stand. A guard entered, then unlocked and lifted the glass covers of each display case. At 11:00 another guard in full uniform of ceremonial coat, gloves and hat stood at attention in the doorway while the Peace Tower clock chimed the hour. The guard then stepped into the Chamber and at each display case she would snap to attention, salute, adjust the bookmark and turn the page, and then bow her head in respect for a quarter minute before stepping back, saluting and moving on to the next case.
Eventually she came to the book for WW2 and turned the page to reveal my uncle’s name, Raymond Albert Stanley. After she’d completed all of the cases, she returned to us, offered her white glove for me to touch his beautiful, calligraphied name and connect further with my deep memories of my uncle.
Our emotions ran very high in that time. We had to step back from the cases for fear of our tears dropping on the pages. This is something we’ll not ever forget, and the time there was made more special because of the respect and utter sensitivity of the guard who performed this solemn task.
Sixteen years ago we were the first and only visitors to my uncle’s gravesite in the Canadian cemetery in Villanova, Italy. After we returned from Ottawa Eileen checked her travel journal. The date we visited the Chamber for the ceremony was the same date as our visit to Uncle Raymond’s grave in 2001.