Nelson soldier John “Jake” Loewen was 22 when he was killed during a military offensive at Vimy Ridge in 1917. Wednesday morning his great great grand nephew Ryan Evans was on hand at the Remembrance Day ceremony to pay his respects along with approximately a thousand fellow residents.
“He was my great great grandfather’s eldest brother, and he was really young when him and 300 other Nelson boys went over. Most of them didn’t come back,” said Evans, who attended the parade with his partner Kate Arnold.
“The significant thing about Vimy Ridge was that it was the Canadians who took it away from the Germans, but Uncle Jake wasn’t there to see the victory. As far as I know, he’s still over there.”
Evans often ponders what it would be like if their roles were reversed.
“If I was born in 1886 instead of 1986, and I was called up to serve, at some point there would’ve been a man behind me blowing a whistle and I would’ve had to go up and over. I think about that, especially this time of year, and I guess I’m grateful there’s nobody blowing a whistle behind me.”
Evans said the occasion gave him an opportunity to ponder “the innumerable fates” of those who were “condemned to die in the muck.”
Mayor Deb Kozak offered up memories of other Nelson soldiers killed during World War I, including Nelson Mayor Mungo McQuarrie’s son Robert and “popular cub reporter” William James McVicar.
“A lot of these young men had no idea what they were getting into,” said Kozak. “They thought war was going to be a lark and they’d be back by Christmas. They had money in their pockets, three meals a day and a free trip to Europe.”
Sixty-one thousand were killed.
Kozak also acknowledged the conscientious objectors and women who participated in the war effort as ambulance drivers, medics and nurses.
“We remember all of them today and thank their families for their sacrifice.”
Charles Jeanes was once again the only protester during the event, and held up a sign near the back of the crowd. Unlike last year, when a short scuffle ensued, nobody interfered with him.
Rev. Jeff Donnelly led those gathered in prayer and two planes flew overhead to mark the end of a reverent two-minute silence. And once again World War II veteran Lionel H.L. Binette, 96, was called upon to recite a rousing rendition of “Flanders Fields”.
“We are the dead, short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,” Binette recited. “Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders Fields.”
Evans believes his great great uncle is one of the unidentified bodies there.
At the time of his great great uncle’s enlistment with a Kootenay-Boundary battalion in 1915 Loewen was employed as a boilermaker apprentice in the Canadian Pacific Railway company’s shops in Nelson. He was survived by his mother, Mrs. John Loewen, and three brothers: Jacob, who was in the employ of the News Publishing company’s job printing department; Henry and Gilbert and three sisters, Mary, Kathleen and Alma.
Evans was introspective after the ceremony.
“I think about the grand heartbreak of war and the futility of it. That’s a lot of broken hearts to gain a few inches of ground. Then to go ahead and break more hearts the next generation. I participate in the grand historical lesson of war: remember the dead, and hope they didn’t die completely in vain.”