By Sue Bryant
For nearly a century, the Cloverdale Cenotaph has been a monument to our veterans and those lost to war. The people of Surrey have gathered at the cenotaph to pay their respects since it was first revealed on Victoria Day weekend in 1921.
The dedication service took place on the west side of the Municipal Hall in Cloverdale. The ceremony was attended by nearly 1,500 people, including several veterans not long back from their battles of the First World War.
The Vancouver Daily World painted the day, “Far from the scene of the mud and battle din of Flanders’ fields, in the pine scented air of smiling Surrey’s peaceful meadowlands, a monument was unveiled to the memory of the twenty-six sons of Surrey, who laid down their lives during the war.”
The monument that has been the centrepiece of our remembrance ceremonies for the better part of a century is made of grey British Columbian granite. It rises 3 ft 9 in from the base and was originally topped by a German field gun.
The 77-mm “Whizz-Bang” field gun was captured by the Canadian Expeditionary Force, 47th Battalion (British Columbia), of which many Surrey soldiers were assigned.
The term “Whizz-Bang” was widely used by Allied forces to describe the noise the soldiers heard when a shell was fired. As the shell was travelling faster than the speed of sound, the soldiers would hear the “Whizz” before the actual “Bang” of the gun. Consequently, these were feared in the field as it limited the defence of the incoming shells – they were well on their way to their intended target by the time they were heard.
When the 47th Battalion captured the field gun on September 27, 1918, it was a proud moment, and when it was later chosen by the municipal designer, Clair Lemax, to become the centrepiece of the cenotaph instilled even more pride. The gun was painted admiral grey, and had two small blocks of marble holding the wheels stationary, each decorated with a maple leaf.
The field gun would be removed at the start of the Second World War when the need for any available metal became great. Surrey did its patriotic duty and melted down the gun to donate to the war effort.
In the 1950s, the cenotaph was moved from it’s original location to a new location outside Shannon Hall, where it remained until 2004.
In 2005, the decision was made to return the cenotaph to near its original location near the then-new Surrey Museum. At that time, modifications were made to better represent the veterans from the Second World War, the Korean War, and the work of Peacekeepers, by adding the “Kneeling in Remembrance” statue on top. The soldier bears the insignia of the 47th Battalion, and is dressed in full battle kit.
Funds were raised for the statue through donations made by Surrey schoolchildren. In the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Korean War, the Canadian Army’s policy was not to return those killed in action but to bury them where they fell. As such, the exact location of the fallen are not always known. The significance of the kneeling soldier is to pay homage and respect to these men and women.
The “Lest We Forget” mural was also painted in 2005 as part of the “Spirit of Youth Mural Program” by Grade 12 students of Sullivan Heights Secondary and North Surrey Secondary who had living or late veteran relatives. The photo-realist montage included Second World War images representing land, air and sea squadrons.
In the middle of the mural, the depiction of wheelchair-bound Surrey war veteran, Bill Larson, accompanied by two young air cadets in observance of Remembrance Day, sets the tone. The Canadian flag with the Mosquito bombers, and the ruins of a building reminiscent of devastated towns in France add further to the story.
The gray-toned group of soldiers are taken from a National Archives photo of an Edmonton Regiment during their battle in San Leonardo di Ortona in 1943. The Canadian armoured tank is modeled from a similar one used in Regalbuto, Sicily. The naval scene in the lower right borrows from a rough weather beach landing at Bernieres-sur-Mer, France. The three members of the Women’s Army Corps were sourced from a Surrey Archives photograph. Finally, if one looks closely, the background forms crosses, similar to the gravestones found in many European cemeteries that contain the Canadian War dead.
Each of the 22 soldiers who are memorialized on the cenotaph today had stories of their own. Many were Privates, and most were under 25 years of age when they were gave the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.
One such story is that of the Triggs family. Harvey Triggs was better known as Harry, and was the eldest son of Councillor George Triggs of Tynehead.
Harry signed up and went overseas as soon as the war was declared but sadly lost his life at Vimy Ridge on March 16, 1917 at the age of 22. George Triggs’ 18-year-old grandson, (Reginald) Bruce Triggs, of Crescent Beach, would be killed at Passchendaele only a few months later on October 24, 1917. Councillor Triggs paid a high price losing a son and a grandson to war. Neither were returned home to their family but are memorialized as well overseas in the battlefields where they fell.
One of the other names that stands out is Archie Duncan McRae, an electrical engineer on the USS F-1 submarine in the US Navy. He lived in Surrey, but chose to go across the border to Blaine, Washington to sign up with the US Navy at the start of the war.
He had trained as an electrician and was involved in surface training exercises off the coast of California when an accident occurred on December 17, 1917. Two submarines manoeuvring on the surface collided, sending McRae’s submarine to its watery grave within 10 seconds of impact.
Of the 24 men aboard, only five survived.
When the submarine was located in 1976, it was found to not only have a tear along the side but both hatches were still raised, speaking to how quickly the tragedy occurred.
For each name, there is a family, a life, a person who stood up for our freedom and our country. As we stand on Remembrance Day, we remember and thank these Surrey men as well as the many other veterans who also stood for us.
Sue Bryant is an oral historian and a member of the Surrey Historical Society. She is also a digital photo restoration artist, genealogist and volunteers at the Surrey Museum and Surrey Archives.