05 November 2006
The 7th Book of Remembrance
One year ago about this time I was getting increasingly excited to see a project I was part of - and still am - come to fruition. On Remembrance Day 2005, In the Service of Canada, the 7th Book of Remembrance was unveiled during a ceremony held in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill. As Veterans Affairs Canada - the department responsible for the project - noted, the book "was created to honour the valiant men and women in the Canadian Forces who gave their lives in service to Canada since October 1947, with the exception of those commemorated in the Korean Book of Remembrance." Background on the project can still be found on the Legion Magazine website in a very thorough article by Natalie Salat titled "Bound by Remembrance".
The 7th Book of Remembrance is similar to the six that preceded it, but different in one major respect. It's open ended. It's meant to be, as Veterans Affairs put it, "a living document". When launched there were about 1,300 names in the book, dozens more have been added since, and more will continue to be inscribed in its pages. Some of these are names of military personnel who died in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s who have been accepted for the book after further historical research or submissions from the public. Some of the names are more recent, and reflect deaths from combat, peace support, or domestic service.
I have been honoured to play a small part in this project and expect to be part of it well into the future. During the production phase I worked as part of the inter-governmental team led by Veterans Affairs to design the style and content structure of the book. My role, based on some of my duties at the Directorate of History and Heritage, revolved around historical information but, primarily, on my ability to research (and verify) ranks (they've changed a lot from 1947 to present), post-nominals abbreviations, and unit and formation titles. It doesn't sound like much, perhaps, but historical accuracy (to an historian at least) is my small way of paying respect to these men and women by trying to get it as right as possible.
As a result, I reviewed the information for each name originally going into the book, conducted further historical research, made corrections, and drafted recommended entries for the book. Often, this was, well, just plain sad. After all, each of these people shared a common fact - they died while serving their country. Honourable, yes. Worthy of remembrance, absolutely. Still sad, nonetheless. Sometimes, it was even harder for me. During my review of the bulk of the names in the spring and summer of 2004 there were several names I was investigating whose documents would note next of kin as a wife (now a widow), several months pregnant. That was heartbreaking as it was, but I found it more difficult at that time as my own wife was due to give birth in the summer of 2004. I couldn't imagine leaving them without a husband and father. Neither, I expect, would have the deceased husband and father whose case I was researching.
I continue to work on the 7th Book of Remembrance, doing historical research and recommending individual entries for Veterans Affairs. Although now it is only sporadic in terms of my work time and effort, it is still close to my heart and, I feel, of great importance. In the week before the book was unveiled last year, Veterans Affairs held a dinner thanking all those who had worked on its production. The 7th Book of Remembrance was there, open so we could look at it. The feeling was beyond description. I have not yet gone to see it since it's been installed in the Memorial Chamber on Parliament Hill. The truth is I'm waiting, waiting until my daughter is old enough to have some understanding of what it means (she's two), some understanding of why her daddy is standing there with tears in his eyes.