Remembering

The Belgian village of Adegem lies about 72 kilometers from Brussels on the highway to Ghent. It started as the final home for 818 young Canadians killed as they liberated seemingly endless towns lining the south bank of the Scheldt estuary. Today it is the final resting place for 1,119 Commonwealth warriors, 33 Polish fighters, three French soldiers and one unknown. They have all been gathered from isolated battlefields, brought together in one place to be remembered.
The Canadian liberators fought their way through and around Adegem in late September 1944. It was much smaller in those days than it is today. A small village with a long memory.
Every September on the anniversary of liberation day the children of Adegem walk from the village to the nearby Canadian War Cemetery and cover the steps a central war memorial with fresh flowers. In the early years of that remembrance parade mothers, survivors of the German occupation, walked with their children. Today the children who walked in the first ceremony now walk with their own children, their grandchildren and some their great-grand children.
In today’s ceremony the once small stream of flower carrying children has grown to small river. They parade into the cemetery with their flowers and form two circles, one behind the other. At the most solemn part of the ceremony the smallest children in the inner circle step forward and place their bouquets on the steps surrounding a single, tall cross.
The inner circles then retreats, the outer circle moves forward to place its flowers. I am told that the silence of the moment is complete. The lines of grave markers embrace the moment.
I felt a little of that silence in the 1970’s when then BC Premier Bill Bennett, his Finance Minister Evan Wolfe and his Minister of Economic affairs Don Phillips and their wives joined the Mayor and several council members from the village in a brief wreath laying ceremony.
It was a solemn occasion and ended with a brief walk along the crosses “row on row.” The Premier was walking ahead with his wife Audrey as they came to the end of a line and turned to walk back along another row to the central memorial. As they turned the first grave stone facing them on the new row read:
“Pte.Richard Wesley Badley, the Canadian Scottish Regiment, 10th October, 1944. Age 19. Son of Albert Henry and Mary Badley, Kelowna, British Columbia.” The Bennett’s were from Kelowna. They knew the Badley family. And a war which had once been a story talked about on ceremonial occasions had suddenly become real and very close to home.
It was a quiet ride back to our hotel.

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