Andy Schidlhorn choked back tears as he read the names of six young Langley men who never made it back from the Battle of Passchendaele 100 years ago.
Eugene Lawrence Allard, age 33; Harry Brawn, 28; Carleton Hurst Brown, 20; Francis Hubert Read, 31; John Topping, 19; and William Arthur Wilson, 21, died in 1917 – after the British launched a major offensive against German forces on the muddy battlefield on the Passchendaele ridge in northwest Belgium.
“They’re very much on our minds today,” Schidlhorn said of those fallen First World War soldiers whose names are now inscribed on the cenotaph in the village cemetery.
Canadians played a “major role” in that victory and these men made the ultimate sacrifice, Schidlhorn added, extending his thanks to the audience who came out to pay their respects to these men, as well as all the other Canadian soldiers through the years who have fought – and especially those who lost their lives.
“We assemble here to honour those heroic men and women who made the supreme sacrifice to ensure that we – who survived and generations to come – can live in peace and be free to purse within the bounds of decency, law and order a way of life each of us may chose,” he said.
In addition to those lost in Passchendaele, a brief tribute was given to three Langley veterans who passed in the last year, and a moment was dedicated to Const. John Davidson, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty in Abbotsford earlier this week.
Outfitted in his firefighter dress uniform, Schidlhorn proudly emceed the services from a stage tucked behind the cenotaph. His voice was carried out over loud speakers to ensure it reached the huge crowd spread throughout the graveyard and out onto Glover Road.
Quickly becoming one of the largest services in the region, some estimated 5,000-plus people came out to Fort Langley Saturday morning – including visitors from the U.S. and the Netherlands.
This was the first time that the main drag through the village was blocked off to traffic for about an hour, helping ensure that more of the general public could get up closer to actually see the services, and Schidlhorn hopes that can become a tradition.
“It’s really hard to tell, for attendance,” Schidlhorn said when asked to estimate the crowd size. But he did believe there were higher numbers than last year.
Reflecting back on the event’s growth, he recounted that has grown significantly in a short time.
It was official kicked off in 2000, by late Fort Langley icon, Brenda Alberts, and Second World War veteran Gord Gillard.
In 1999, the two both gathered before the cenotaph, Alberts holding her father’s bible and both wondering why there wasn’t on official service in the village.
The next year, they invited more people to join them. About 35 people came.
Since those early days, the service has continued to grow and grow.
Consequently, organization of the event has been taken over by a committee, of which Schidlhorn is chair this year.
But while the attendance continues to blossom, he said it remains “very much a grassroots” effort involving many members of the Fort Langley community.
He specifically gave a “shout out” to the Fort Langley Lions “who do so much to bring this together,” Schidlhorn said.