Joyce Johnson poses for a photo after enlisting in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force on her 18th birthday in 1944. (Photo courtesy Valerie Gibson)

St. Luke’s Service of Remembrance honours more than 130 veterans

Women’s Auxillary Air Force veteran added to the list of honourees

The cemetery at St. Luke Cedar Hill Anglican Church is quiet in early November and sunlight warms the paths that weave between the rows. As the colder weather creeps in, poppies appear on lapels and parishioners at St. Luke’s start to prepare for the Service of Remembrance on Nov. 10.

On this day, the cemetery will no longer be silent. The names of the known veterans buried there will ring out as Reverend Daniel Fournier makes his way through the list of names in alphabetical order.

John Thomas Albian, John Gordon Anderson, Kenneth Armstrong, Ernest Charles Ashton…

The service is designed to honour veterans and it has been held at the church twice since 2016. The most recent took place in 2017 and was attended by two veterans, one of whom was Joyce Johnson.

Johnson was born in England and was just 13 when the Second World War started.

“For many years, my one ambition was to join the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF),” she wrote in a memo about her war experience.

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She joined the Royal Air Force as soon as she turned 18 in February 1944. She trained as a radar mechanic at a technical college in Essex while German forces bombed London. She remembered having to hide under dining room tables with her classmates one night when an explosive was dropped near the college.

After her training was complete, Johnson worked on two bomber stations and when the war ended, she was transferred to a Transport Command Station. This was lucky as that’s where she met her husband, Richard. They were both discharged from service in 1947 and married in July of 1949.

“I enjoyed, on the whole, my three and a half years in the WAAF,” wrote Johnson. “It was a good experience.”

Richard was a radar mechanic too, explained Valerie Gibson, eldest of their three daughters. He’d originally trained as a bomber pilot in Regina but found the spin manoeuvres made him air-sick.

“He told my mother he was thankful it had turned out that way as most of the bomber pilots never made it back home,” Gibson noted.

The Johnsons eventually made their way to Vancouver Island.

Joyce Johnson died in May of this year at the age of 93. She was buried in St. Luke’s cemetery next to her husband, who died in 1994, and her name has been added to the list to be read out at the 2019 Service of Remembrance.

The service will begin in the church at 10:30 a.m. with a short sermon followed by time in the cemetery. There, while attendees are gathered among the tombstones, the names will be read out.

Each year, the church puts out a call for names to be added to the list as the official number of veterans buried in the cemetery is unknown, explained Barb Prescott, parishioner and communications coordinator for St. Luke’s.

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When the service first took place in 2016, there were just 30 names on the list. In 2017, there were 87. No service was held in 2018 due to scheduling issues, but folks have continued to submit the names of friends and relatives that fought in all manner of conflicts and are buried at St. Luke’s. As of October, the list had 131 names and more continue to come in.

The service is mainly attended by parishioners and relatives of the veterans, but Prescott emphasized that non-relatives are also welcome to come. She noted that it’s a unique and poignant experience to stand among the tombstones with the relatives while the names are read.

After the names have been read out, the graves of the veterans will be adorned with “remembrance pots” – filled with flags, poppies and rosemary plants – put together by the children who attended the Fantastic Friday youth event at the church on Nov. 1.

Anyone interested in adding their relative’s name to the list or providing more information about a specific veteran buried at St. Luke’s can contact the church by phone at 250-477-6741 or by email at admin@stlukecedarhill.ca.


@devonscarlett
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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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The St. Luke Cedar Hill Anglican Church is hosting a service Nov. 10 to honour the veterans buried in the nearby cemetery. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

The St. Luke Cedar Hill Anglican Church hosts a Nov. 10 service to honour the veterans buried in the nearby cemetery. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

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