Mike Bieling’s project to commemorate Cowichan Valley veterans with cross placements continues to gain momentum each year.
Bieling has done a tremendous service to the community as the coordinator of the Cowichan Valley Lest We Forget Where They Lie Project and his tireless efforts are appreciated by family members and descendants of veterans laid to rest in cemeteries around the valley.
Bieling, his right-hand assistant Sherry Deptuch and members of the 100 Royal Canadian Admiral Mainguy Sea Cadets were at the Westholme All Saints’ Anglican Churchyard Saturday for the placement of crosses. Additional information continually being acquired resulted in further acknowledgements there.
“We found seven over the course of the year,” said Bieling. “That brings us up to 56 that we’re aware of.”
The database he’s been compiling will long be of use into the future for maintaining precise information on all the vets who served in various capacities. It all began 18 long years ago and Bieling has devoted considerably more time to the project after he retired.
“I came along and started putting it all on computer so we wouldn’t lose the information,” he indicated.
In the beginning at Westholme, there was only Bieling and Sherry Deptuch present to place the crosses at the grave sites.
“Now it’s wonderful to see the Sea Cadets Admiral Mainguy Corps join us to place the crosses and the volunteers who look after the cemetery who keep it so neat and tidy for us,” said Bieling.
“Twenty-two veterans we were able to identify the first year we came out here.”
With the total at 56 now, he doesn’t feel as though the maximum has been reached yet within the small cemetery.
“I’m sure there’s more and we’ll continue researching names,” Bieling indicated. “It’s an interesting process.”
There was no formal ceremony in 2020 due to COVID, but cadets and the public returned in 2021 after a late lifting of restrictions.
Piper Joel Bailey was also in attendance this year. “It’s an honour and a pleasure,” he said about being part of the ceremony.
Cross placements have been taking place at cemeteries around the valley in the last two weeks before Remembrance Day.
“That’s a tradition that’s taken root in all the different communities,” Bieling pointed out.
The practice of placing the crosses actually dates back to the early 1950s. Volunteers from different organizations have been placing small white crosses, decorated with a sprig of cedar and a lapel poppy, on the graves of veterans interred at local cemeteries. Uniformed veterans or members of the various cadet corps then deliver a military salute to each deceased veteran at every site.
The biggest cross placement in North Cowichan was held at Mountain View Cemetery and also St. Mary’s (Somenos) Oct. 30, organized by members of 744 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron, supported by the 100 Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps Admiral Mainguy, the 2924 Khowutzun Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps and the local St. John Ambulance Youth Brigade as well as volunteers from Royal Canadian Legion Branch 53 and the community.
Parish members, Chemainus Legion Branch 191 representatives, Air Cadet volunteers and a contingent of Sea Cadets also participated in separate cross placements at St. Peter’s Church (Quamichan) and St. Michael and All Angels Chemainus Cemetery.
In South Cowichan, volunteers from the Mill Bay/Malahat Historical Society worked with members of Malahat Legion Branch 134, cadets from 744 Squadron and parish representatives to do the remembrance cross placements Oct. 29 at St. Andrew’s Churchyard (Cowichan Station), Shawnigan Cemetery, St. Francis Xavier Church (Mill Bay), the Mill Bay Historic Church and Cemetery, and James Dougan Memorial Cemetery in Cobble Hill.
Veterans’ crosses were also placed at St. John the Baptist Church (Cobble Hill) on Nov. 6 as a parish activity.
Bieling encourages everyone to visit any of the community cemeteries to see the crosses in place until late November.
To add a name and burial site of a veteran interred in one of the Cowichan Valley’s cemeteries, contact Bieling at 250-748-5031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.