Students visit WWI memorial stone erected by Gordon Women’s Institute in 1919

Charles C. McLean Grade 4/5 class students paid a very special visit to the Gordon cemetery on Friday of last week, two days before the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The students and teacher Heather Jefkins made the visit to pay their respects at the World War One memorial stone, erected by the Gordon Women’s Institute in 1919. Students Kowan Orford and Tessa Merrylees held up the Canadian flag while everyone participated in singing our national anthem.

GORDON TOWNSHIP—The Charles C. McLean Grade 4/5 class paid a very special visit to the Gordon Cemetery on Friday of last week to pay their respects at the World War I memorial stone, erected by the Gordon Women’s Institute in 1919, and to learn more about local soldiers who lost their lives in the war and as part of the Battle of Vimy Ridge (the latter battle 100th anniversary was on April 9).

“Do you think it is important for the community that the Gordon Women’s Institute put up this memorial stone?” class teacher Heather Jefkins asked her students, who agreed the action taken by the local W.I. was important. “In 1919 this was a rural community, there were families in this area that operated farms.”

“Do you think it is important to remember the soldiers? The men listed on this memorial stone and others would have run these family farms when they returned from war,” said Ms. Jefkins. “If the Gordon Women’s Institute idea was to preserve the memory of these soldiers, they have succeeded because we’re here 98 years later at this memorial; children that went to school on April 7 visiting this place, only two days before the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917.”

The World War I memorial stone, erected by the Gordon W.I. reads at its front, “To Our Fallen Heroes, 1919, a year after the war was over.” Patrick McCann read the inscription, “He was a hero. Dear is the grave where dear Robbie is laid. Laid sweet is his memory that never will fade. Flowers may wither and leaves may old but to forget him never will!”

The students had the chance to read each of the names on the memorial, Private J.A. Blair Fraser died April 19, 1916-aged 24-years-old, eight months, buried Chester Karn Military cemetery Zellebecke; Private Robert J. Willett, born 1895, died of wounds August 10, 1918, buried at Dury Namiens.; Pte. Harry Beatty died in battle of St. Julien April, 1915; Pte. James. P. Merrylees, died November 5, 1918, aged 24 years, buried in Demain British cemetery. Pte. Percy G. Becks killed in action April , 1917 Vimy Ridge;  Pte. John D. son of James and Archibald Currie, born March 24, 1890, died September 2, 1918; Pte. Jas. A. Rayner, died in action. Some of the information on the stone, relating to the names on it can’t be read because of the buildup of moss on them.

All bodies were buried in France or Belgium, the students were told. Mrs. Jefkins noted there are many similar memorials on Manitoulin in townships around the Island.

“Our Vimy Ridge veteran, Private Becks, was from here in Gordon, and his family went west. He was killed on the opening day of Vimy Ridge,” explained Ms. Jefkins.

The Gordon W.I. memorial stone has a cannon on top, rifles and a crown. “You can tell the stone has been well maintained,” said Ms. Jefkins. “These veterans’ memories are still being kept alive from 1919, she said, noting that the memorial stone would have been expensive at the time to have built, as they are stone. It would have been a project the W.I. would have saved money for, to have someone build. As you can see it is still in very good shape, 98 years later.”

The students then gathered around the memorial stone, singing O’Canada with Kowan Orford and Tessa Merrylees flying a Canadian flag that had flown at Magumghar at Afghanistan, in 2010. Liam Cunningham and Daphne Carr then laid a wreath on behalf of the veterans, followed by a moment of silence.