Monday, 17 November 2014

A correction and suggestion for honour's sake

There is nothing worse for a pastor than getting a name wrong. Nothing. And I did exactly that in last week’s column. I referred to Stoker A.M. "Jimmie" Johnson, RCNR, incorrectly as Johnston. I deeply appreciate the correction offered to me by family members, who were most gracious. I offer my deepest apologies to them, especially as they remember their loved one on Remembrance Day.

Their correction, however, led me to further reflection and thought, especially as I watched the Cenotaph service.

The family told me that they always lay a wreath, not at the Cenotaph, but at the gates of the HMS Jervis Bay Park, across 8th Avenue. They pin their poppies to the wreath in memory of their lost family member. For them, it’s a place of memory and sadness; grief still present, nearly seventy five years later.

Jimmie’s body was lost to the sea. According to a family member, he did reach a lifeboat following the sinking of the Jervis Bay, but in the cold North Atlantic, his body was swept away and lost forever. The only memory left to family are the places which honour and remember the sacrifice of the HMS Jervis Bay.

Which brings me to my point.

I drove past the HMS Jervis Bay park on Wednesday after Remembrance Day. I as astonished to see that in the park were several installations of the Festival of Northern Lights. There was an aircraft, a "Support the Troops" display and several wooden soldiers out of sugar plum fairy land. The park had been fenced off with orange contractor fencing and the excavation work which had been done earlier in the fall was still not cleaned up.

Because I take Remembrance Day seriously, I could only shake my head. I found it hard to accept that a place which reminds us of deeds of valour and sacrifice are covered quickly in a tourism motif. Perhaps the worst insult was that Jimmie Johnson died in the service of the Royal Canadian Navy on a Royal Navy ship. Yet no ship is within sight of the memorial park, least of all in the festival display.

As I examined the park environment, I became aware of a couple of other things.

The stone gateposts, to which the memorial plaques is attached, are badly damaged and one is tipped. They desperately need restoration and repair.

The park is also heavily overgrown and dark. It needs the attention and care of the Parks department, not just to cut the grass, but to trim back the shrubs and trees. The J. James photo of the park, which can be seen on line, shows that in the 1920's the park was much less overgrown and more open and inviting.

Owen Sound has three memorial parks. The Cenotaph is the primary park, and is the focus of our Remembrance Day activities. There is the HMS Jervis Bay park across 8th Avenue from the Cenotaph and there is the Robert T. James Mitchell Park on 2nd St. A West. All are places for visitation, recreation and special memory.

In anticipation of the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Jervis Bay, perhaps the city could consult with the family and Royal Canadian Legion about how the park could be made more attractive.

As we have done before in the restoration of the Cenotaph and other memorials in the city, the gates at the HMS Jervis Bay park could be repaired and restored.

The park itself might be cleaned up, opened up and made more attractive to passers by.

Finally, in consultation with the Festival of Northern Lights, more appropriate spots could be found for the light displays than a memorial park.

One of the most solemn moments in the ritual at the Cenotaph each year comes when we recite the words of poet Laurence Binyon. "At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them." Our response is "We will remember them."

And we will. Including Jimmie Johnson.