B.C. cemetery honours soldiers who gave their lives before reaching battle

Private Michael John Jepson, buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery, died of tuberculosis before he got to battle. This Remembrance Day, Catholic Cemeteries director Peter Nobes wants to honour those who were ready to defend their country and values but never got the chance. (Photo by Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic - CCN)

By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic

[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – Aime Alain dropped out of high school in Coquitlam to enlist in the army in 1941. A year later, as a gunner with the 3rd Searchlight Battalion, Royal Canadian Artillery, he was stationed at Stanley Park Fort in Vancouver. One day he and three other soldiers were floating in rough waters in a small rowboat in English Bay when their boat capsized. The other three were rescued, but Alain drowned. He was only 19.

This Remembrance Day, Peter Nobes is putting a spotlight on the stories of men and women who made the life-changing commitment to defend their country and values, but never made it into battle.

The director of Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Vancouver happened to stumble across Alain’s story and others while researching the war dead buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery in New Westminster. In the course of his research Nobes came across a curiosity. Of all the war veterans laid to rest at St. Peter’s, there were five men who for various reasons had died off duty or without ever seeing war.

“Commemorating the wars is not about celebrating conflict, it is about remembering that there are values worth sacrificing for,” said Nobes. While health or other issues prevented these five men from seeing the front line, “each was poised to do so.”

Leon Albert Dessert joined the Royal Canadian Air Force after graduating from high school in Montreal. He was a 25-year-old pilot officer stationed in Ucluelet when he went on leave to visit his parents, wife, and son. During that visit, he became ill and was moved to Deer Lodge Military Hospital in St. James, Man., where he died with a ruptured esophagus. He received a military funeral with a firing party and was buried in St. Peter’s in 1944. Lake Dessert in the Northwest Territories is named after him.

Cadet Percy Archambault was 20 years old and still in training with the Royal Canadian Air Force when he died of pneumonia in 1918. He is buried in St. Peter’s with both of his parents.

The gravestone of Private Richard Grady, who died in Canada after serving overseas in World War I. (Photo by Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic – CCN)

Private Richard George Grady was 38 years old when he enlisted in 1915. Two years later, while carrying a wounded soldier in Vimy Ridge, France, he fell and broke his right leg. He was treated in the field, then at an auxiliary hospital, and then at a hospital in England. Grady was sent back to Canada, spent some time at Shaughnessy Hospital, and was deemed medically unfit for service in 1918. He died two years later of myocarditis, a heart condition unrelated to his military service.

Pilot Officer Leon Albert Dessert (Submitted – The B.C. Catholic, CCN)

When Private Michael John Jepson enlisted in 1914, he appeared to be healthy, even though he had spent 10 days being treated for pleurisy (inflammation in the lungs) at Vancouver General Hospital earlier that year. But after landing in Europe, he developed a cough, began to lose weight, and was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the Canadian Hospital in Shorncliffe, England. He was deemed medically unfit and sent back to Canada, where he was further treated for tuberculosis. He was 29 years old when he died of TB in 1918.

Nobes, who is organizing a Remembrance Day Mass and commemoration event at Gardens of Gethsemani this month, said these and all the war dead deserve our appreciation and prayers.

“Let us acknowledge their commitment, sense of adventure, and willingness to tackle the evil and oppression that was the battle of World War II.”

Students of St. Mary’s elementary school recently recited In Flanders Fields at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver. (Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s, The B.C. Catholic – CCN)

Students of St. Mary’s Elementary in Vancouver are among those who are honouring members of the military. The Grade 4 class was recently filmed by Global TV as they recited the poem In Flanders Fields at Mountain View Cemetery. The segment was scheduled to air Nov. 5. “It was a great honour,” said principal Brenda Krivuzoff.

Various groups of students have found other ways to observe Remembrance Day. Students from Saint John Paul II Academy arrived at Gardens of Gethsemani Nov. 4 to pray, clean graves, and have discussions on life and death.

Meanwhile, Immaculate Conception Elementary students in Vancouver are preparing to plant tulips in the school’s Liberation Day garden to commemorate the Canadian Forces’ liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis in 1945. The now-annual tradition began last year with bulbs gifted by the Dutch consulate.