Two men keep Cobble Hill cenotaph vigil in honour of slain soldiers

Bob Collins and James Baird stood at attention at the Cobble Hill cenotaph at exactly 2:36 p.m. on Oct. 21 in the pouring rain.

Bob Collins and James Baird stood at attention at the Cobble Hill cenotaph at exactly 2:36 p.m. on Oct. 21 in the pouring rain.

That’s the precise time that Canadian Armed Forces Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot in the back and killed two years ago on Oct. 21 as he stood ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Collins, a former member of the Queen’s Own in Winnipeg, and Baird, a former member of the Royal Canadian Navy, spent all of Friday night standing at attention at the cenotaph.

This is the third consecutive year Collins has kept vigil at the cenotaph to honour Cirillo, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was murdered in a hit-and-run by an Islamic-extremist in Quebec just 48 hours before the attack on Cirillo, and all other members of the Royal Canadian Armed Forces who died in non-combat situations.

The two men kept their vigil until 11 a.m. on Oct. 22 when the Malahat Legion held a memorial service at the cenotaph.

Collins, who is a member of the Malahat Legion, said the Legion decided to start honouring Canadian veterans who died in non-combat situations annually during the anniversary of Cirillo’s murder.

He said different veterans will be recognized each year, and this year Sgt. Mark Saleese, who died in a training accident in Banff in 2015, Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron who died in a friendly fire incident in Iraq in 2015, Pvt. Kirby Tott who died a non-combat death in 2015 and Corp. Christopher Webster, who also died a non-combat death in 2016, have been chosen.

“I intend to do this every year from now on,” said Collins, who was joined by Baird for the vigil for the first time this year.

“If it rains on us continuously during the vigil, we’ll have to just suck it up. It’s the least we can do to honour these people.”

Collins began the annual tradition the night of Cirillo’s death two years ago after a 92-year-old veteran told him he couldn’t sleep knowing that there was no honour guard at the Cobble Hill cenotaph overnight in honour of the two soldiers that were killed killed in Eastern Canada.

The old veteran himself was going to stand watch, but Collins decided he wasn’t going to let that happen and held a vigil himself.

He said staff of the nearby Cobblestone Pub has informed the duo that they’ll keep an eye on them during their vigil, and will bring them coffee and food.

Collins said the Shawnigan Lake RCMP also told him they would check on them regularly overnight to ensure their safety.

Baird, who comes from a military family, said he drove from Chilliwack to join Collins in the vigil.

“This is very important to me,” he said.

“We don’t usually recognize servicemen who lost their lives on Canadian soil, and in non-combative roles overseas. We haven’t seen the last of these deaths and I felt I should join Bob in the vigil out of respect for them.”