November 4th marks the rededication ceremony of the Malvern Collegiate Institute War Memorial. This cenotaph bears the names of the 25 ‘Boys of Malvern’ – boys who graduated from this high school and went off to fight and die in the First World War.
It is worth taking the time to read about the lives and fates of these men on the Honour Roll. All of them courageous – four of them formally honoured for being so. All of them young – a number of them still teenagers. Some of them brothers.
What struck me most when reading the Honour Roll – perhaps strangely – were their addresses. Somehow they brought history to life. The boys lived on Beech, Wineva, Lyall, Swanwick, Main and Gerrard. We, in this community, live in their houses now. We eat in the same kitchens. We climb the same stairs to the bedrooms they grew up in. They would have tumbled – or stumbled – out the front door to fall into class at Malvern Collegiate in the same way that our kids do today.
But their lives came to an end not long after their days at MCI. And most of them lay buried close to where they fell, thousands of miles from the neighbourhood they grew up in and the high school they attended.
It is a wistful thought that I cannot suppress. I wonder if one of the boys had by some improbable chance met my grandfather somewhere on the Western Front. It was in 1915 that my grandfather enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces, was commissioned and posted to the 37th Battalion. He was wounded in 1916 and gassed in 1918. But my grandfather survived. And now, his great-granddaughter walks through the shadow of the Malvern War Memorial every school day.
I know we all tend to lose sight of those things that are in plain view before us every day. But I think there can be no better place for a war memorial than that which the Malvern War Memorial occupies – perched as it is, daily, above the student population of a high school. The cenotaph originally dedicated in 1922, represents stories of incredible courage but also, and mainly, stories of irrecoverable loss. The lesson, I think, has to be about the enduring value of peace.
It is my hope that the fate of the ‘Boys of Malvern’ not be lost on today’s boys and girls of Malvern and that the value of peace not escape them. Because our kids – their generation – represent our next best chance to fashion a world of less conflict and greater peace.
That, we know, is no easy task. It has eluded us since long before the ‘Boys of Malvern’ left this neighbourhood for battlefields far away. And, over the last 10 years too many more Canadian soldiers have shared their same fate. We have reached a point in Canada, now, where our government measures support for our soldiers in terms of dollars we’re prepared to spend on the hardware we provide for war. And by that measure, with a plan (this government’s ‘Canada First Defence Strategy’) to spend $490 billion dollars on military hardware and infrastructure over the next 20 years (the proposed – and supposed – $9 billion for F35s being but a fraction of this total) peace will not come easily or soon.
My thanks to – and admiration for – all those who organized and all those who donated to the Malvern War Memorial Restoration Campaign. May this cenotaph mark the start of a path to peace for our kids. And if there be the 25 ‘Boys of Malvern’ watching the rededication from on high, may they know that they have not been forgotten and assured that they did not die in vain.