If this were any other year, Peter Chance would likely be making the rounds at local schools, sharing with students his experiences during the Second World War as a member of the Royal Navy, serving in the Far East and European theatre on different ships.
But this is 2020 and COVID-19 continues to up-end the familiar, including Remembrance Day and all the activities leading up to it.
“I think it’s inevitable,” said Chance, who will turn 100 years old on Nov. 24, less than two weeks after Remembrance Day, when asked about the revised format for Remembrance Day.
“And it’s sad thing, because we always managed to get a big turnout for our ceremony, because after all, it is for our people, who didn’t come home. We will do our best with what we got.”
For 2020, it means an indoor ceremony at Mary Winspear Centre with 50 invited veterans including Chance. For coordinator Kenny Podmore of the Royal Canadian Legion Saanich Peninsula Branch #37, the restricted attendance means he had to make some tough choices. More broadly, it means that key familiar aspects of the ceremony won’t be happening, starting with the parade of active service personnel, as well as various veterans organizations and local cadet groups among others.
“Consequently, there is no (public) wreath-laying ceremony at the cenotaph,” said Podmore, adding later that local dignitaries will lay their respective wreaths earlier that day. A trio of local Legion members will also lay wreaths.
People will be encouraged to lay their own wreath if they wish, and residents will also be able to share memories on a memory board to be displayed at the cenotaph, he added.
Ultimately, these changes mean that Remembrance Day and its spirit of commemoration will have a far less visible public component.
Nevertheless, Podmore is encouraging residents to stand outside their homes starting at about 10:58 to do their own two minutes of silence.
“We will still have — hopefully — the fly-pass at 11 a.m.,” he said. A second fly-pass featuring vintage planes is scheduled for later that morning.
Podmore also hopes that parents will encourage their children to make poppies for display in windows, while also educating them about the larger significance of Remembrance Day. That educational component is where the absence of Chance from local schools will be most felt.
“That is something else that we have lost, unfortunately,” said Podmore. “This time next year, God bless him, we don’t know Peter is going to be with us.”
Residents will be able to follow the proceedings inside the Mary Winspear Centre through a live-stream and the ceremony itself will be nearly identical to the familiar outdoor ceremony, said Podmore. There will be concessions to COVID-19 with social distancing, staggered arrival times and other measures.
Looking back, Podmore said he always expected that this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony would be different in light of changes to VE-Day commemorations.
“But I have to be honest and truthful. A part of me is also saying that it still might not happen. Things change dramatically.”
As well, cadets won’t be selling poppies this year, because of regulations from Legion command
The starting date of the poppy donation campaign (Oct. 30, which happens to be the last Friday in October, as per tradition) also limits the donation period.
“People, as we know, are perhaps going to be more generous this year,” he said.
Chance, for his part, has remained generous with his time. The honorary president of the local Legion branch has addressed local navy cadets through virtual means readily shares his memories of his service time, which among other places, took him to Iceland, albeit involuntarily after a storm had driven his vessel onto shore, killing 15 comrades.
Chance said he will miss the large crowds that have traditionally attended Remembrance Day.
“It was always important for us to remember those who didn’t come home, and it was our pleasure to take part in (Remembrance Day).”
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