Reflections on a Repatriation: Remembrance Day

I spent two years of my life in Belleville, Ontario, during college. Belleville is not far from Trenton, home to a major Royal Canadian Air Force base. CFB Trenton is the hub for Canadian military air travel, and it’s where the repatriation of Canadian soldiers killed in the line of duty takes place.

During school, a friend and classmate was eager to go to a repatriation. They’re usually heavily attended and as photojournalism students it seemed like an important opportunity. We got there to find out that the repat had been rescheduled, so we had to leave and come back again. The second time around it was obvious what was taking place. Hundreds of people lined the chain-link fence between the highway and the base, with Canadian flags stuck in the links and held in people’s hands.

I started paying attention to the people around me. There was a boyscout troop, women and men of all ages, a couple from out of town who made a special trip out to Trenton, and, right before the plane landed, a huge crew of bikers pulled up.

I remember the day in bits and pieces. I remember the female RCAF officer who said she was always happy to see so many people turn out to repatriations. I remember the plane landing so quietly I didn’t even realize it had touched the tarmac. I remember watching the soldier’s family and trying to fathom what it could possibly feel like to be in that situation. I remember consciously choosing to not press my shutter down anymore, to not break the silence of what felt like a sacred moment.

I didn’t go to another repatriation after that. For me, it felt too personal, like I was intruding. I would have rather been there just as Shayla, not as Shayla-with-a-camera. I guess that’s one of my journalistic failings.

Today, Matt and I drove out to the small town near us, which has been amalgamated into our town. They had a small, simple Remembrance Day ceremony, honouring their twelve soldiers who lost their lives due to war. The oldest veteran in town, age 92, was in attendance, along with the small handful of other vets still keeping the cenotaph clean and in repair and keeping the Legion running.

After, we sat down for lunch, graciously invited by the community. We shared the company of wonderful people who provided us with their hospitality. To me, the camaraderie shared by that small town is the best reminder of what Remembrance Day is all about. Because so many people fought for our country, for our freedom, we’re now able to sit, side by side, and enjoy fellowship in peace.

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