Service and sacrifice: Lethbridge Legion commemorates 100th anniversary of the poppy

The Lethbridge Legion is doing its part to make sure southern Albertan veterans, like this one laid to rest in Mountain View Cemetery, are not forgotten.

This year marks the 100th year since the poppy was adopted as Canada’s lasting symbol of remembrance and, in Lethbridge the occasion is being commemorated with two different projects.

The Royal Canadian Legion General Stewart Branch, in partnership with the Alberta Branch of the Last Post Fund, are partnering to ensure veterans’ commitment and service is not forgotten by future generations.

The Last Post Fund’s Unmarked Grave Program provides permanent military markers for eligible veterans who lie in unmarked graves.

Local directors gathered at the Mountain View Cemetery Monday, where several headstones have been installed recently, providing long overdue recognition of the military service of some of the members who are buried there.

“I’m here to talk about Joseph Thomas Patrick Ferguson,” said Yvonne Sugimoto, director with the non-profit’s Alberta Branch.

“He fought and he sacrificed for our freedom.”

Ferguson was born in England in 1894 and served in the First World War and Second World War.

He was awarded medals in the U.K. and Canada for his service.

According to Sugimoto’s research, which took about a year, Ferguson came to Canada with his wife and children, and worked in the Lethbridge area as a highway inspector and commissionaire.

Ferguson, a proud member of the Legion, passed away in 1960, but it was only after the Last Post Fund completed its investigation, that Ferguson was able to receive a headstone acknowledging his military service.

“There are others that I’ve been working on for 10 years and I still haven’t been able to find their records, but hopefully one day some clue will show up, it will click and they will get a headstone as well.”

Sugimoto said she is currently investigating 23 cases, where individuals may not have received proper recognition, with another 34 cases awaiting approval or undergoing further investigation.

“So many of these men died alone, and their graves are unmarked,” she said.

“I think it’s extremely important we remember all of the soldiers, because they sacrificed so much for our freedom.”

“The Last Post Fund is delighted to see the installations of several military markers for our veterans who can now be honored permanently for their military service.” says Glenn Miller, a member of the Alberta Branch of The Last Post Fund.

“Many of those who did got to war didn’t really want to talk about their experiences, because they were so painful,” Tom McElhinney, chair of the Lethbridge Legion Poppy Committee, said.

The General Stewart Branch is commemorating the poppy’s 100th anniversary through a social media campaign, asking people to share memories of a loved one, associated with the poppy theme of remembrance or service.

Residents of southern Albertan are being invited to share those stories using the hashtag #mypoppymemory.

“This is the 100th anniversary year, and it would be wonderful to get 100 stories,” said McElhinney.

The memories and stories will be gathered over the coming year, and if the Legion can raise enough money, they will be published.

McElhinney said there are many people in the community whose relatives have served, and whose memories have not yet been shared or recorded.

He said the campaign is aimed at passing the torch of remembrance to future generations, and provide a lasting and public tribute to the service and sacrifice of our veterans.