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Pair of 98-year-old Second World War veterans highlight Saint John Remembrance Day celebrations


It wasn’t the capacity crowd that TD Station in Saint John, N.B., became accustom to during it’s Remembrance Day ceremony prior to the pandemic, but the crowds are returning to honour Canada’s veterans.

“This year it went up,” said Saint John Remembrance Day Committee chair Bernard Cormier, who notes over 4,000 people were in attendance, a bump of nearly 2,000 from 2022’s ceremony.

“Not back to 6,800 yet but it is so nice to see people coming back out again.”

The hour long ceremony was an emotional one, highlighted by a pair of 98-year-old Second World War veterans taking part.

Winnie Rice and Victor Burrill received the loudest of their multiple standing ovations while laying a wreath on behalf of the legion at a cenotaph on the arena floor.

Burrill served as a tail gunner in the Second World War, widely considered one of the most dangerous positions at the time. Despite the risks, Burrill always wanted to be in that role when he enlisted.

“I was only five-foot-six and so I fit into the tail turret so it worked out well,” Burrill recalls. “My pilot got a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross), my navigator got a DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal), and I got back.”

The life expectancy for a tail gunner at the time was only five missions. Burrill completed nearly seven times that number for a total of 33 missions.

“Anybody that said he wasn’t afraid is a liar, you don’t get shot at without getting afraid,” says the 98-year-old. “I kind of re-live parts of it again, I mean I have told lots of stories through the years.”

As a veteran of one of the most famous wars in human history, being able to attend the ceremony each year is important for Burrill.

Ninety-eight-year old Second World War veteran Victor Burrill lays his poppy on a cenotaph. (Avery MacRae/CTV Atlantic)“He thinks about it for about five or six days straight ahead of time and thinks about how he is going to get here and how things are going to go,” says Victor’s daughter Rebecca Burrill.

Rebecca and her siblings, David Burrill and Lois Hunter, all attended the ceremony along with their father. They say over the years they have heard many stories about their dad as a tail gunner.

“Sometimes we have to drag them out of him,” jokes Hunter. “But every once in a while we find out something new so it’s been interesting.”

“Yeah the story grows a little bit over time, we get a little more details,” laughs his son David.

For Cormier, having the pair of near century-old veterans apart of the ceremony is extra special.

“These people make a special effort to never miss Remembrance Day at that is admirable,” Cormier praises. “It shows the kind of people that they were even when they were serving their country during the war.”

The ceremony also highlighted veterans, both retired and current, during a March of Honour.

“We dim the lights and it’s very dramatic but it’s powerful,” Cormier says of the practice that has been ongoing for nearly a decade now. “Remembrance Day has a solemn section to it, which is the Last Post and that sort of thing, but after that we want to try and reinforce the idea and the concept of remembrance.”

Wreaths lay in front of the cenotaph at TD Station in Saint John, N.B. (Avery MacRae/CTV Atlantic)Cormier reminds residents that remembrance doesn’t end on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

“I want them to remember 365 days a year.” Cormier says.

He encourages residents to join their local legion, or consider enrolling their children in a cadets program if possible. He says the best way to honour the fallen is to simply be kind to one another.

“There is so much terrible wars and conflicts and fighting and protests and everything else in the world,” Cormier reminds residents. “Let’s just be kind to our neighbours.”

Click here for a photo gallery of the Remembrance Day ceremonies held throughout the region. Top Stories

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