Cobble Hill’s war memorial didn’t please everybody in 1920

“Forbid it, O God, forbid it that we should ever forget what they have done for us.”—Rev. J.H.T. Holman

“Forbid it, O God, forbid it that we should ever forget what they have done for us.”—Rev. J.H.T. Holman

Some readers might not be aware that there are four war memorials in the Valley besides the Duncan Cenotaph in Charles Hoey Park. Or that this perceived duplication caused some hard feelings in the two years immediately following Armistice.

We’ve all but forgotten the fact that because organizers intended the Duncan memorial and the lighthouse on Mount Prevost to honour all of Cowichan’s war dead, they were vocally disappointed when Cobble Hill residents chose to build their own memorial.

Nevertheless, on a grey, cold day in February 1920, there was a formal unveiling before an audience 300-strong which included Premier John Oliver, standing in for an ailing Lieutenant-Governor Col. the Hon. E.G. Pior. Also on hand were MP J.C. McIntosh, MLAs R.H. Pooley and Kenneth F. Duncan, Duncan Mayor Thomas Pitt and various local dignitaries.

Thirty cadets from Shawnigan Lake Preparatory School served as honour guard and paraded with 40 returned servicemen and a detachment of members of the Ancient Order of Foresters. Accompanied by organ music, ceremonies were opened by storekeeper and unofficial mayor of Cobble Hill village, G.E. Bonner, who proudly informed those present that the memorial had cost $650 of which $407.68 had been subscribed. The Rev. J.H.T. Holman, MA, MM, opened the service with Nearer My God to Thee followed by Thessalonians 4, 13 to 18 with its message of hope for those “that are fallen asleep in Jesus”. After the lesser litany, the Lord’s prayer and a memorial prayer for “those who have finished their course in Thy faith and fear,” he gave the thanksgiving:

“…We glorify Thy name for victories won and peace secured, for the courage and perseverance of our men and women, and for deeds innumerable of heroism and devotion. Above all we bless Thee for those who from this district, counting not their lives dear unto themselves, have made the great sacrifice. Forbid it, O God, forbid it that we should ever forget what they have done for us. Uplifted by their examples, inspired by their deaths, may we rise from the depth of sin unto the life of righteousness, that whether by life or death we may glorify Thy name, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

After another hymn, MLA (and veteran) Duncan explained that the memorial was to be an evergreen reminder for those who followed, for those too young or not even born during the First World War.  “If the average man in France had been asked why he was there, the reason why there was war,” said Duncan, “his answer would have been vague and indistinct. Yet, deep in his mind, he felt it his duty to defend the liberty and security of his country. Deep down, too, he felt that he was safeguarding his own kith and kin.”

He told of a fallen soldier he’d met who’d prepared his own epitaph: “Tell Britain he who lies here rests contented.” Just a week earlier, in Victoria, he’d met another man who’d just returned from England and a visit to the War office where “a high official” had asked him to “tell the people of Cowichan that their effort was the finest in the whole British empire”.

Future generations, Duncan said, had a responsibility of that great record, to remember those who’d made the supreme sacrifice.

The memorial about to be unveiled would help to achieve that noble end. He assured the returned servicemen and the families of the fallen that their services and their sacrifices hadn’t been in vain: “Long after this monument has crumbled into dust and for ages to come, the memory of their deeds and of the sacrifices you have made will go down in the history of the world to the remotest generations.”

After Premier Oliver removed the Union Jack that veiled the stone, Cobble Hill resident George Cheeke recited the 25 names (including that of nurse Dorothy P. Twist) inscribed.

He said he looked out on faces changed and altered by war’s efforts, “but war had leavened them as never before,” they were a more united brotherhood and community. “This stone is a mean enough tribute, but it is the best we can do to perpetuate the memory of those gallant souls who have done so much for us.” He believed that everyone who “passed this stone should do so with raised hat and bowed head”.

After the dedication by Rev. Holman a one-minute silence was followed by prayers for the bereaved, for progress and for Canada. Finally, the benediction and the Last Post played by an army trumpeter from Victoria’s Work Point Barracks and A. Jenkins of Shawnigan Lake.

The square granite obelisk standing on three steps was quickly covered with floral wreaths. Of the $260 outstanding, $116 was taken in by donations from those attending the unveiling. Raised, refurbished and landscaped and moved about five metres in 2009, Cobble Hill’s Cenotaph has had two names added to those honouring both world wars. A second monument immediately behind the Cenotaph marks the local Dutch community’s appreciation of Canada’s role in liberating Holland during the Second World War.