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Veterans living at Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion in St. John’s appreciate new caribou statue

Veterans James Samuel Miller, 81, (left) and James Kirby, 94, discuss their thoughts on Remembrance Day at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion in St. John’s Friday.
Veterans James Samuel Miller, 81, (left) and James Kirby, 94, discuss their thoughts on Remembrance Day at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion in St. John’s Friday. - Glen Whiffen

During a Remembrance Day service in the atrium of the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion in St. John’s Saturday, veterans, staff and visitors will be able to look with pride to the new caribou statue standing on guard near the entrance to the facility.

And while the Remembrance Day ceremony at the pavilion is always a special event commemorating those who served our province and country, the statue that was installed this summer is considered an amazing tribute to those veterans who call the pavilion home.

Currently there are 22 veterans residing at the pavilion who served in the Second World War, the Korean War and other theatres of war and peacekeeping missions.

Resident and veteran James Kirby, 94, of St. John’s, who served with the 166th Newfoundland Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, and spent some time with the regiment in North Africa, said the caribou statue is “the best thing that’s happened here” and a reminder of the good and bad that comes with war.

“This is a wonderful place and the caribou is a great addition,” Kirby said, while sitting in the atrium Friday as preparations were beginning for Saturday’s ceremony.

The atrium is an inviting area, soaked in November daylight through tall, tinted walls of glass.

In addition to commemorating all those who served, Kirby’s mind is filled with memories of his father and brothers, in particular, and all of his family. His mother died in 1931, leaving nine children behind, while his father, Charlie Kirby, was away working at sea.

Charlie Kirby had served in the merchant navy during the First World War and when hostilities broke out again in 1939, he joined the merchant navy once more.

James Kirby said the children were separated — he was adopted by his grandparents, while his sisters and brothers were adopted by various relatives.

After the Second World War began, he said, his brothers Stan and Harvey joined the navy. His brother Eugene also joined the military and later fought in the Korean War.

Now, he said, there’s only him and one sister left.

“I joined up Nov. 27, 1943 with the 166th,” Kirby said. “I went to Halifax and took a course in gas — mustard gas, tear gas and nerve gas. The worst gas was mustard gas, the deadliest one. Once it gets on your skin, after 60 seconds, if not treated, you are gone.”

Fortunately, he said, he never had to use his training to treat gas injuries in the field.

Veterans’ Week at the pavilion was officially started last Sunday with a candlelight service.

Royal Canadian Air Force veteran James Samuel Miller, 81, of Conception Bay South, said he looks forward to Veterans’ Week and Remembrance Day each year.

“I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in the 1950s at age 17. Got out in 1957, honourable discharge,” he said. “I was a mechanic, and got flying time in, but I didn’t fly steady.”

Miller served at a number of RCAF bases in Canada.

He said he enjoys taking part in the Remembrance Day service at the pavilion with the good friends he has made there.

“It’s important to remember those who made sacrifices for our freedom,” he said.

Eastern Health said the acquisition of the bronze caribou statue was an initiative led by the Legion Action Committee comprised of members of the Royal Canadian Legion, Eastern Health, Veterans Affairs Canada, and other military and veterans groups.

The statue is a smaller version of those seen at memorials in Europe — such as at Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park in France — and at Bowring Park in St. John’s.

“Its placement at the entrance to the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion will serve as a fitting reminder of the hundreds of veterans of the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, as well as all veterans who have resided and currently reside at the pavilion,” an Eastern Health statement read.

Second World War veteran George T. Hudson, 94, who resides at the pavilion, said seeing the caribou statue sitting outside the entrance is an important symbol for veterans. Hudson fought in Europe with the 59th Newfoundland heavy artillery during the Second World War.

“Every soldier loved the caribou as a symbol,” Hudson said. “It is such an addition to the hospital and to St. John’s as a whole.”

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