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Remembering veterans on parade in Picton

Soldiers leaving Picton, Aug. 20, 1914. Photo from the collection of Alan R. Capon

By Margaret Haylock Capon
While working as the Belleville Intelligencer’s bureau reporter, in Prince Edward County, in the 1970s and 80s, one of my annual assignments was coverage of the Remembrance Day services at the Picton cenotaph. Year after year on Nov. 11, I stood in Monument Park, with a small group of on-lookers waiting for the veterans’ parade to make its way up Main Street to the war memorial. We stamped our feet and rubbed our hands together to keep warm as we strained to hear the band music that heralded the parade’s arrival. There was a hush in the crowd, when at last the veterans marched into view, then swung into formation facing the cenotaph. Many years have passed, but still I see their faces clearly.

I remember Picton’s former mayor, Albert Piroth, who was a Wing Commander during the Second World War, Homer Shields, Walter Insley, George Warner, Robert Carter, Ted Rose, Woodrow Blakely, and many others who once marched so proudly on Remembrance Day. I also recall standing beside the late Phil Dodds,  retired news editor of the Picton Gazette, as hymns were sung during the services at the cenotaph. Phil’s brother, John, had fallen in The Great War and was always remembered by his family on Nov. 11.

While standing with Phil at the cenotaph, I discovered that he possessed an unusual talent. Whenever the hymn Abide With Me was sung, he would sing it very loudly, all on the same note. His voice did not rise or fall. Although his singing skills were questionable, there was no doubt that he sang with all his heart.

Traditionally, the late Creighton Lockyer, who was a fine musician, would sound The Last Post and Reveille. One year, a dog that had wandered into the crowd responded by throwing back its head and howling, as the haunting notes of The Last Post rose into the chill November air. It seemed that he, too, in his way, was mourning the loss of so many of Prince Edward County’s fine young men.

As the years passed, I began to miss some of the familiar faces in the veterans’ parade. One by one these fine old soldiers were joining the ranks of the White Battalion. In acknowledgement of the veterans’ advancing age, the parade route was shortened and Remembrance Day services eventually were moved indoors at Picton United Church, with a wreath-laying ceremony still taking place at the cenotaph.

Today, the veterans’ ranks have thinned, but the crowd that gathers for Remembrance Day services at Picton United Church is larger than ever before. The men who fought so bravely for our country have not been forgotten. Their sacrifice laid the foundation for a sacred trust that we honour to this day. We will always remember them and the terrible price they so willingly paid for our freedom.

On Nov. 11, I still see my old friend Phil Dodds standing at the cenotaph and smile as I recall his unique version of the beautiful hymn, Abide With Me. I like to believe that he is now reunited with his young brother, John who was lost so many years ago. I also see, Al Piroth, who was my landlord, in the early years of my marriage. I recall how he managed our apartment building with military precision and insisted that no pets were allowed. He repeatedly emphasized this rule despite the fact there were six cats and one long-haired Chihuahua abiding under his roof.
I remember the late George Warner, too. Each year he was hired to cut down the tall grass at Picton fairgrounds, with a scythe, just before the fair. We would always exchange greetings when I was exercising my horses, which were then stabled at the fairgrounds barns. On Remembrance Day, the elderly workman who so skillfully swung a scythe always seemed to stand taller as he marched in the veterans’ parade. Shoulders straight, he would stand at attention in front of the cenotaph and, for a moment, I could see the tall, young man who marched away, so many years before.

Each year on Nov. 11, I feel pride and gratitude when I see the elderly veterans who still gather to remember their fallen comrades. In my mind’s eye, I also see those proud old soldiers who have marched ahead to be reunited with them.

Filed Under: Local NewsMargaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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  1. Ernest Horvath says:

    I feel that gratitude as well.
    I often think of the families that will never be whole again that lost loved ones so that people can live free All the men and women that gave their lives in horrifc conditions for all of us will never be forgotten.
    We will always remember and honour their sacrifice by ensuring that we never allow this freedom to be taken away bit by bit.
    Thank you so much for all you have done and sacrificed.

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