There was a palpable stillness in God’s Acre Cemetery on Friday morning as dozens of middle school students drifted between the headstones.
The Grade 6/7 classes from Rockheights Middle School were participating in the “No Stone Left Alone” program, which sees students place poppies at the graves of Canadian veterans.
“The No Stone Left Alone Foundation is committed to making a realistic remembrance experience for school-aged students,” said Rockheights principal Maryanne Trofimuk. “The goal is to educate and most importantly engage our youth in honouring every soldier that has fought for our Canadian freedom and to ensure these soldier’s acts of bravery are recognized and never forgotten.”
Rockheights students were the first school in B.C. to participate in the program in 2013, but are now amongst 8,000 students across Canada who place poppies at more than 50,000 graves in 101 cemeteries.
The students heard from Canadian Forces veteran James MacMillan-Murphy, a multi-tour blue beret airborne veteran who was accompanied by his PTSD service dog, Cullie. MacMillan-Murphy recounted his times under fire while in Cyprus, and read a poem he wrote at the time.
“It makes me feel so proud to be an Esquimalt resident when I see what our schools do here,” MacMillan-Murphy said. “My heart is so full of joy respect and appreciation to you young students here today. I remember how I felt in those days under fire, and you guys have eased that so much. I don’t know what I can give you accept to say I salute you and I thank you for what you’ve done for our community. “
Students were each given 25 poppies to lay at veteran headstones and were asked to take a moment to read the person’s name and reflect on their life before moving on.
“I became quite emotional, because they gave their lives fighting for us,” said Grade 6 student Simon Low, who sat reflectively at each grave.
Grade 7 student Chaeli Alsdorf said she felt a real connection through the process, especially since she might have a relative in the cemetery.
“Last year my friends found someone with my last name, and everyone got pretty excited,” Alsdorf explained. “I don’t know that we’re related, but we could be.”
Her friend, Trinity Orrick also believed having that connection with the people in the cemetery was important.
“I just think it’s cool how everyone gets to go see every grave and you can go think about what they did,” Orrick said. “You should always think and feel connected to them, and try to know them.”