Weekday Remembrance Day ceremonies in Tillsonburg have traditionally had fewer people compared to weekend ceremonies. But not like 2020.
“Today, because of restrictions of COVID-19, we have had to scale down our ceremony,” said Dr. Jason Pankratz, Tillsonburg Legion Br. 153 member.
This year’s Nov. 11 ceremony started with a shortened Legion Colour Party parade, a howitzer was fired during the laying of wreaths at 11 a.m. (many of them pre-laid), and moments after the ceremony there was a Harvard flyover.
“We had a beautiful day for a ceremony,” said Pankratz, looking around at the few dozen people leaving the cenotaph area on Broadway. “As you can see not as many people came out. But that’s okay too – I think that shows the respect people have for the day, as well as the veterans, to adhere to the recommendations and the policy of our town. That really is what we asked for – everybody to do their duty and follow the restrictions. We promoted social distancing, wearing a mask, and feeling safe to either attend or not attend.”
“It went very well,” said Don Burton, Br. 153 poppy chairman. “We were blessed with good weather this year. For the COVID-19 that we’re going through, I was pleased with the crowd that was here. If you looked around, they were spread out quite well in different groups. I think that the people who did attend respected what we asked, wore masks, and social distanced.
“I think the significance is still there,” said Burton. “We received calls at the Legion who couldn’t come today because of COVID and they expressed their disappointment in not being able to be here – Allan Chips, our 102-year-old veteran, was one of them. He was going to parade, but due to COVID-19 he stayed at home, and we’re very grateful that he chose to do that.”
The Town of Tillsonburg live-streamed the ceremony on its Facebook page, and Rogers broadcasted it later in the afternoon.
“I think I can say there was never a time we were not going to do a Remembrance Day ceremony,” said Pankratz. “We can always adapt, we can change the content and the delivery. The fact that we had it shows our dedication to our veterans in our community.”
Some of those Tillsonburg veterans attended the Nov. 11 ceremony, although not as many as in past years.
“We have some wonderful veterans with us from the Second World War who are 90-plus, so that has really been an honour to have them join us today. We have Kay Tully – she asked that I bring her out here because she hasn’t missed a Legion Remembrance Day ceremony.”
“Not many,” smiled Tully, a 96-year-old member of Royal Canadian Legion, Br. 153 Tillsonburg for 60-plus years. “I don’t think I’ve missed any. Maybe many years ago when I was very pregnant and couldn’t stand up straight.
“It brings back memories. My mother and father were in the First World War. My sister and I were in the army in the Second World War.”
The firing of a blank charge by Simcoe’s 56th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA – 69th Battery was a new – and impactful – memory for the local Remembrance Day ceremony, and a first for Tully in Tillsonburg.
“I’ve never seen them go off here,” said Tully, who remembers the guns at The Battle of Bulge.
“I nearly jumped off my seat when the gun went off. I knew it was going… but yeah, too close for comfort. I just jumped – it brings back a lot of memories because we were sometimes pretty close.”