In 2013, Lane Gray was chosen to be the Saskatchewan Command participant for the Royal Canadian Legion Youth Pilgrimage. Below is a speech that he gave at the 2013 Biennial Provincial Convention in North Battleford on October 21st, along with a link to a video that he showed while giving his speech.
We at Saskatchewan Command would like to thank Lane for sharing his experience at the convention. It was a powerful speech and was truly enjoyable and inspiring.
Lane is available for presentations to schools, branches, or other events. His contact information is below his speech.
[youtube height=”500″ width=”600″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2ruJkPg9HE&list=FLgg5gt3YYEqFWjZg3fyhuvA&feature=mh_lolz[/youtube]
Good afternoon Comrades;
My name is Lane Gray and I am from Quill Lake Branch #37. In July of this past summer, I had the good fortune to be this year’s Pilgrim from Saskatchewan for the Legion’s Youth Pilgrimage of Remembrance. I was one of ten pilgrims representing each provincial command and in all there were 26 participants. Many of you know another Saskatchewan participant, Comrade Al Hodgson from Nipawin. This year, the tour made its way through northern France, Belgium and a short jaunt into Holland to visit the Canadian battlefields and cemeteries from the First and Second World War. It was an extremely moving and educational experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. For this I would first like to thank those involved in selecting me for the pilgrimage.
Part of my responsibility in participating in the pilgrimage is to present the highlights of the tour to you today. This has been the responsibility of past pilgrim participants as well. Although this is the first Legion convention I have attended, I am sure you have seen images and heard stories of pilgrimages in past from participants like Comrades Brenda Fredrickson and Connie Wilson. I imagine that the experience has had similar impacts on them as it has on me and the message to the convention has been similar over the years. For this reason, I would like to put a different spin on my presentation. Although you are going to see many images from the pilgrimage, today I am not going to tell you about WHAT I saw so much as WHO I saw.
Going into the pilgrimage, all of the participants were excited to tour the Canadian battlefields we have all heard about as well do some European sightseeing. For many it was the first time travelling in Europe and we expected to fill our cameras with images of things we had only seen on TV or read about in books. For the first couple days of the trip this did happen. At every stop we made, the sound of clicking cameras filled our ears. Then things changed.
The trip went from being one of seeing the sites and battlefields to one of visiting some very special people. Each one of us took time to visit family and other heroes that never came home after the wars. For many of these heroes, this was possibly the first time they had been visited in years if they had been visited at all. After our emotional visits, all the pilgrims shared the stories of those we visited together. This became the purpose of the pilgrimage, sharing their stories and bringing them back to life.
I WILL REMEMBER THEM
I was able to visit Alex de Coteau who was born and raised in North Battleford and became an Olympic racer and the first Aboriginal police officer in Canada. He died at Passchendaele.
I visited Alvin Rustad; the uncle of a friend who, with the Fort Garry Horse, died coming ashore in a tank on D-Day.
I laid crosses at a dozen Quill Lake heroes who remained in France and Belgium but grace our Quill Lake cenotaph.
Finally, I visited William Martin, my great uncle, who fought and lived through Vimy only to be struck down while fixing a telephone cable a month after the famous battle.
As my video has shown you, one of our goals, as the Legion, is to keep remembrance alive in our communities. In this we are doing a good job. We work closely with schools and community groups to promote remembrance of Canada’s conflicts and the participants in those conflicts. This is done mainly in November but for many communities, it can be neglected the rest of the year. I am here to tell you that there is so much more that we could be doing to remember our veterans and fallen soldiers.
I have provided a few suggestions in my video that we could do to keep their memories alive. Some of the ideas, such as visiting our soldiers’ graves, may be difficult for some however. I suggest everyone try to make at least one pilgrimage to the Canadian battlefields in their lifetime but certainly the cost can be an obstacle.
Participation in the Legion can also go a long way in promoting remembrance. We organize many local events but many of these events revolve around Remembrance Day. This is excellent but what about the rest of the year?
Interviewing a veteran can be a rewarding experience. Our remaining veterans all have stories of their own to tell and these should be recorded as soon as possible.
But the one idea that I am here to promote today, one that anyone can participate in, is capturing the fallen soldier’s stories. We remember the conflicts and battles, but every soldier that has ever given the supreme sacrifice has an individual story to tell. If your branch is anything like mine, you honour the names on the cenotaph from time to time, but really, how much do you really know about them? It would be a shame to lose their stories to time.
The second responsibility I have been given, from the pilgrimage, besides speaking to you today, is to make myself available to Legions and community groups for presentations. My goal, through these presentations, is to help you keep the individual soldiers’ stories alive.
My proposal is this; I will make myself available to you, the Legion branches, community groups or schools to conduct a workshop in researching individual soldiers, whether they came home or not, and keep their stories alive. Over the past few years, researching soldiers of the world wars has become a hobby for me and I have uncovered the stories of dozens of soldiers for family and friends. Being a school teacher, I have helped my students do the same. The soldiers shown in the video are only a few that my students and I have researched and that I visited in Europe. I won’t claim to be an expert but I have become quite adept at doing this research and spreading this knowledge has become a passion. Through the workshop, I will show you what resources are available, where to find them, and how to use them in researching soldier’s stories. My hope would be that eventually the research conducted around the province could be compiled and made available for anyone interested in these stories. These could be of fallen soldiers, those that came home after the wars and have since passed away, or our veterans in our communities. If you are interested in allowing me to conduct this workshop in your branch or community, please contact me or talk to me today.
Before I conclude, I would like to tell you a story from the pilgrimage and one of those stories that must be recorded.
Alec Driechel was the pilgrim from Alberta command. His great grandfather, Alex Wilson, was a stretcher bearer at Passchendaele and survived the war. During the war he purchased a pocket watch and used it for several years after the war until it quit working around 50 years ago. Nobody he took that watch to was able to fix it but he kept it none the less. Alec’s grandfather handed the watch down to him and he has had this non-working watch ever since. Alec thought it would be a good idea to bring the watch on the pilgrimage with him, perhaps thinking that he was bringing a little piece of his great grandfather with him. One morning we paid a visit to the Passchendaele cemetery and Alec took the watch out of his pocket to get some pictures and miraculously, the watch was ticking. When I recently talked to Alec, the watch was still working.
Although many stories may not be as remarkable as this one, these stories need to be recorded and retold. I sincerely hope that you invite me to your community and allow me to help you keep them alive.
Quill Lake Branch #37
To learn more about the Youth Pilgrimage, please contact Saskatchewan Command at (306) 525-8739 or firstname.lastname@example.org.