Thousands in Langley gather around a cenotaph each Remembrance Day, be it for services in Langley City, Aldergrove, Murrayville, or Fort Langley.
For Michael Major, he’s “proudly” attended the services in the village of Fort Langley for the last several years, with his young family.
But this coming Sunday, he’ll be looking at the cenotaph in a different light, and specifically a few names inscribed into the stone.
During the past year, the Bosnia veteran has been spending several hours a week – at least – researching the names of the Langley soldiers chiseled into the cenotaph.
“I wanted to know who these guys were,” he said. Initially, his quest for intel didn’t turn up much. But quickly he was turned on to the virtual war museum, where he found PDFs of all the service records for the First World War veterans – those who did and did not return back home to Langley.
What he found and wrote about, surprised him a bit.
“They were regular people. There’s no one model. There’s no one guy that was a soldier. It was everyone,” Major said, noting 650,000 men served in the war that ended a hundred years ago this year.
“There were so many volunteers from all walks of life, all professions,” he said, calling it “astonishing” how literally everyone possible signed up to fight in the war – almost ever available man between the ages of 18 and 40, plus some 2,000 nurses.
It’s not the stereotypical young, fit guy who was found on the recruitment posters or who tends to enlist with the Canadian Forces today, Major said.
What he found in the way of details about these soldiers, whether they died overseas or came back injured, were often shocking and left him wondering. He pondered what their lives became upon their return, if they returned. And for those who didn’t make it back, he wonders what happened to their families.
“It was, in a lot of cases, heartbreaking to read about these guys,” he said.
His quest for information continued, and expanded. Major started looking up people from the New Westminster Regiment, for which he’s a member. Then, his search broadened. He continues to spend time at home, during his lunch hour at work, and often many other spare moments scanning through service records on his computer, iPad, and even his phone.
“I’m never going to read 650,000 service records, but I’m still going to continue to do it a few times a week,” he said, noting both his grandfathers served in the Second World War and Major remembers just a few of the stories they were willing to share when he was growing up.
While he formerly attended Remembrance Day services annually at the New Westminster armoury, after settling in Langley four years ago this welder/fabricator and his wife have started taking their two sons, now ages nine and six, to the Fort Langley services.
During Sunday’s ceremony, he will specifically think about a few of the local veterans he researched, and the life stories he’s uncovered.
“There are a few that stick out, that I guess I’ll be thinking about on Remembrance Day,” Major said. But he said, the stories he’s discovered so far are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Ultimately, he’d like to see this “remembrance” research concept expand further.
In fact, he’s hoping it might start with local schools, and he will be reaching out to encourage their involved in what he dubs the “Research a soldier” initiative.
He was 16 when he joined the reservists with the New Westminster Regiment, and in 2000 he was deployed to Bosnia on a peacekeeping mission.
“For me, it was never a question. It was never like ‘should I?’ It was always ‘I’m going to go and join the army.”
He never had what he called “bad experiences,” while overseas. He never saw combat. But, at the age of 19, he did still witness disturbing situations in a war-torn country that he hopes other Canadians will never experience.
He left the military in 2005, but said it was never a question – growing up – that he would join the army and serve. And he’s glad he did.
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