Honoring Those Who Gave All; Remembrance Sunday in Africa
More than 35 service members and civilians representing several nations including the U.K., France, and United States, participated in a ceremony on Remembrance Sunday, November 13, at the Djibouti New European Cemetery here to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.
"These were young men … who gave their lives here," said British Army Colonel Mike Scott, the senior British military liaison officer with the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. "That is a very humbling experience when one walks to the graves and reads the details of them, their regiments and their corps."
Poppies adorned the fallen service members' gravestones, with inscriptions that tell their stories: "Navigator, age 20, treasured by loving wife, he gave his young life for king and empire, aircraftsmen, 15 July 1942, those who loved you will never forget."
During the ceremony, held on the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day, participants honored the memory of 13 men who died during World War II with songs, prayers, poems and scripture, two minutes of silence as well as laying wreaths and a U.S. Flag.
"Remembrance Day is important, because … these fallen comrades in wars and conflicts past gave their today for our tomorrow," said Scott. "In terms of freedom, justice and liberty around the world, many paid the ultimate price. So, once a year we gather to remember those who paid the ultimate price with their lives so that we can live in freedom and liberty."
The 13 men being honored served in the British, Canadian and Australian forces and died in separate plane crashes. Five died in 1942, and the other eight died in 1945. Among the 850 graves in the Christian cemetery, each aircrew is grouped together with their members laid to rest beside their fallen comrades.
"It is a very humbling event, when you think of the sacrifices that the two aircrews buried here in Djibouti gave to their countries," said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel James Toomey, United States Embassy to the Republic of Djibouti senior defense official and defense attache.
Scott echoed Toomey's sentiment saying, "(With the) campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the poignancy of such an occasion (as Remembrance Sunday) has been brought home to the population."
During the course of the ceremony, officials and representatives from the different nations laid poppy wreaths at a memorial.
According to Scott, the poppies are used as an emblem of Remembrance Day by British and Commonwealth members because of the poem In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea, whose best friend was shot beside him on a World War I battlefield. In the poem, the poppies bloomed across some of the battlefields in World War I, and their brilliant red color symbolized the blood spilled during the war, according to Scott.
"Following the first world war, in the turmoil that was the battlefield, the one flower that grew first and foremost amongst the mud, where shells had fallen and entire woods and forest had been destroyed, was the poppy," Scott said.
Among the recently laid poppy wreaths decorating the memorial stood a lone American Flag.
"Of course the aircrew were British mostly, but there was one American - Pilot Officer Lawrence Maguire," Toomey said.
At the age of 21, Maguire, a native of Orange, New Jersey, hitch-hiked to Ottawa, Canada, and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He then went on to serve with the Royal Air Force at Watton, Norfolk, England. He was injured when his aircraft was shot down during a mission and spent three months recovering in a hospital.
After recovering, Maguire volunteered to serve in the near east and was transerred to the 8th Squadron, Royal Air Force out of Khormaksar, Aden. During a mission July 15, 1942, Maguire and his crew did not return to the base - the war had claimed their lives.
"The U.S. serviceman uniquely had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and then had flown with the Royal Air Force," said Scott. "Thus, he found himself in a British and Commonwealth war grave."
Scott concluded his remarks, speaking of the sacrifice these men made for freedom.
"The fact that they are lying here, far from home, in a graveyard in Djibouti, is testament to their sacrifice," Scott said. "They were willing to go far from home, leave behind their loved ones and fight in the cause of freedom."
"It is for us now, to carry that torch forward to ensure that liberty, (and) freedom continues," he said.
The honored fallen buried at the Djibouti New European Cemetery are:
Hamilton Wray Harold Lewis Sneath Victor Percy Crawford Sennet Francis Edward Channon Lawrence Robert Maguire Ernest Lowndes Humphrey Arthur Gilkes Harold Hames Johnson George Ottawa Turner Robert Edward Dewhurst Henry Brian James Alfred Joseph Geoffrey Plumber
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them," Scott said, reading the Act of Remembrance during the ceremony.