By Commodore Josée Kurtz, OMM, CD, Director General Defence Security –
Every year on Remembrance Day, Canadians gather at cenotaphs across the country to pay respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace and freedom. As we pause to acknowledge our fallen, we also take a moment to think about those who returned from their missions and suffer, physically and emotionally, from the impact of war, conflict and service.
As we approach the 11th of November, the season brings cold, damp and blistery conditions. And even though, as Canadians, we are conditioned to these circumstances, we still feel the bone-chilling winds through our heavy wool coats. This chill serves as a reminder of those harsh conditions our brave soldiers suffered while serving. It should also remind us of the scars they continue to bear, both mental and physical.
These wounds are sometimes so deep that they prevent some from returning to the lives they once enjoyed. Dismissal from the service, unemployment, shame, social isolation, substance abuse and destitution are often the result of these scars. Sadly, these conditions can pave the way to a tragic end. And in those cases, death becomes the ultimate arbiter of this once proud military member’s fate, and the sufficient means for a dignified funeral and burial remain wanting.
Every veteran’s story is unique. But, I find Trooper James Daly’s story particularly resonating.
In December 1908, two policemen found a homeless man huddled unconscious in a doorway in downtown Montreal. They took him to the nearby hospital where he was diagnosed as a drunk and taken to a room where he could sleep it off. When the lead orderly, Arthur Hair, looked-in on the so-called drunk, he noticed a blue envelope sticking out of the man’s pocket. Being a Veteran of the South African War, Mr. Hair was familiar with that type of envelope, issued by Britain’s War Office: it contained the honourable discharge of Trooper James Daly who served the Empire for more than 20 years. This blue envelope represented the trooper’s sole possession.
Trooper Daly was not drunk – he was simply suffering from hypothermia and malnutrition. He died two days later, at age 53. Since his body was unclaimed, his remains would be turned over to science for medical research, as was customary at the time.
Mr. Hair, shocked by a lack of regard for the veteran, raised money from friends and colleagues to give the soldier a decent and dignified funeral. Trooper Daly was buried at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery on Mount-Royal.
Greatly moved by his friends’ emotional and financial gestures, Arthur Hair wasn’t content to cease raising funds with the conclusion of Trooper Daly’s funeral. In fact, he became so concerned by the likes of Daly’s plight that he founded the Last Post Fund. Since then, the Last Post Fund has provided financial benefits to nearly 150,000 service men and women.
The Last Post Fund’s mission is to ensure that no veteran is denied a dignified funeral, burial and military gravestone due to insufficient funds at the time of death. Its primary mandate is to deliver the Veterans Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial Programme which provides funeral, burial and grave marking benefits for eligible Canadian and Allied Veterans. Last year alone, the Last Post Fund approved 1,174 applications for assistance, including 445 for modern-day veterans
The Last Post Fund owns and manages its own military cemetery, the National Field of Honour, located in Pointe-Claire, Québec. It is the only Canadian cemetery solely reserved for military and police force members who served on any international mission and their immediate family members. At the National Field of Honour, the final resting place for more than 22,000 service men and women, Generals lie next to Privates, Victoria Cross recipients beside those without medals, the well-to-do beside those who died penniless.
The Last Post Fund has also created the Unmarked Grave Programme, meant to provide military markers for unmarked veterans’ graves. To date, 3,682 previously unidentified veterans have been identified and given a proper grave marker.
A national non-profit organization, the Last Post Fund is supported financially by Veterans Affairs Canada and by private donations. The national office is located in Montreal with boards and volunteers across the provinces. The Governor General is the honorary patron.
While we do our best to pay respect to our fallen and injured comrades, we must also try to provide dignity for those who may need additional support.
If you know of a veteran who might be eligible for benefits under the Veterans Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial Program, or if you are aware of a Canadian or allied military service person whose grave remains unmarked, please contact The Last Post Fund at http://www.lastpostfund.ca/. The website also provides information on how to make a donation, including their Canadian Charity Registration Number for donations made through the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign (GCWCC).
Help us make sure that no veteran ever experiences the fate of Trooper James Daly.
Lest we forget.
Photo: CFSU(O) Imaging Services
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