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Re-dedication of Kandahar Memorial Cenotaph does nothing to mend insult

August 2019

On 17 August, the Department of National Defence (DND) held a re-dedication ceremony of the Kandahar Memorial Cenotaph in the Afghanistan Memorial Hall at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) – Carling Campus, a private ceremony for family members of those lost in the Afghanistan War and other invited guests. This was an attempt to correct the incredible insult dished out to Afghanistan Veterans and the Veterans community in general.

This battlefield cenotaph, created by the military personnel serving in Afghanistan at the time, was dedicated to those who died during the mission in Afghanistan. It was originally at the Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, where Canadian Forces were based at the time.

When the mission ended 2014 and Canadians departed Afghanistan, the cenotaph was dismantled and returned to Canada where it was kept in storage while DND officials debated what to do with it.

Postmedia had reported in March 2016 that it obtained documents from the Department of National Defence that the Kandahar Cenotaph would be housed in a purpose-built, 12 metre by 25 metre enclosed pavilion at the NDHQ – Carling Campus. Experts had determined that portions of the cenotaph would be susceptible to damage from the elements if located outdoors.

However, when the cenotaph was officially unveiled and dedicated in May 2019, it was housed within the Carling Campus, in a secure area not accessible by the general public.

Incredibly though, only federal officials and senior military brass were in attendance. Families of the fallen were not invited, nor even informed, of the ceremony. No official announcement was made and the general public only found out when the information was leaked on social media.

The backlash from the Veteran’s community and military supporters was swift and harsh. Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance issued a formal apology, but the damage was done.

Even the promise by DND officials that access would be granted to anyone who requested access to the monument did nothing to calm the anger and insult.

I attended NDHQ – Carling Campus on 18 August, which was the first day that the public was allowed to view the cenotaph. The Carling Campus, formerly the home of Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel, is hardly a convenient place for the public to view this cenotaph.

Located in Nepean, a 20 minute drive west of Parliament Hill, the campus is in an area surrounded by woodlots and open fields, far away from the high-traffic areas frequented by tourists or even locals.

Once on the Carling Campus property, one has to go through the security check-point at the main gate and along the walkways within the perimeter fence to a small building housing the memorial hall.

I don’t see too many people beyond those connected to the military or Afghanistan making a trip to view the cenotaph, especially given that prior arrangements must be made by e-mail to DND before admission is granted. No drop-in visits allowed apparently. Most people will likely stay in downtown Ottawa, where there are numerous monuments, statues, historic buildings and museums that tell the story of Canada’s history to visit. If anyone wants to prove me wrong, I strongly encourage it.

I personally believes an ideal place for the Kandahar Memorial Cenotaph would be at the Canadian War Museum, preferably in the main lobby, which has more than enough space and would provide both protection from the elements and maximum exposure to the general public.

While locating the cenotaph in the lobby would allow the general public to pay their respects without having to pay for admission to the museum, many would likely tour the museum regardless, thus exposing more to the proud history of Canada’s military and those who served in uniform.

The cenotaph originated out of a design by Captain Sean McDowell, a Combat Engineer serving in Afghanistan, and was dedicated to the first six Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan: Private Richard Anthony Green, Corporal Ainsworth Dyer, Sergeant Marc Daniel Leger and Private Nathan Lloyd Smith, all killed on 17 April 2002, and Sergeant Robert Short and Corporal Robbie Beerenfenger, both killed on 2 October 2003.

A centrepiece of the cenotaph is a two-tonne boulder taken from the place where Sergeant Short and Corporal Beerenfenger were killed.

In November 2006, the stone was placed on a platform and two wooden wings were added, each bearing plaques honouring all those killed up to that date, with new ones added with each subsequent death.

In total, the Kandahar Cenotaph commemorates the sacrifice of the 158 soldiers, sailors, air force personnel who died in Afghanistan, along with a Canadian diplomat, a DND civilian contractor, an embedded Canadian journalist, along with two sections, added in 2010, to hounour the 42 American soldiers and one American civilian killed while serving under Canadian command.

The Department of Canadian Heritage, Veterans Affairs Canada, and the National Capital Commission announced in June 2019 that public memorial to the Afghanistan mission had been approved and would be built across the street from the Canadian War Museum, with a dedication scheduled for the fall of 2023. This is good news, but I’ll wait until the actual dedication of such a memorial before I praise it.

However, what makes the Kandahar Cenotaph so special is that it was created organically by the soldiers themselves who served in-country as a personal tribute to their fallen comrades. It deserves more respect than to be tucked away in an obscure corner of a defence establishment, in an remote location of an Ottawa suburb.

Sources: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/afghanistan-war-memorial-vance-1.5188337, https://ml-fd.caf-fac.ca/en/2019/07/31854, https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/kandahar-memorial-to-fallen-canadian-troops-to-be-reconstructed-at-new-dnd-headquarters

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Edited version submitted to the Toronto Sun:

On 17 August, the Department of National Defence (DND) held a re-dedication ceremony of the Kandahar Memorial Cenotaph in the Afghanistan Memorial Hall at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) – Carling Campus, a private ceremony for family members of those lost in the Afghanistan War and other invited guests.

This was an attempt to correct the incredible insult dished out to Afghanistan Veterans and the Veterans community in general, when the cenotaph was officially unveiled and dedicated back in May, in a secure area not accessible by the general public, without inviting members of the Canadian Forces or shockingly, even family members of the fallen soldiers.

This battlefield cenotaph, created by the military personnel serving in Afghanistan at the time, was originally at the Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, where Canadian Forces were based at the time. It honours the sacrifice of the 158 Canadian soldiers, sailors and air personnel, along with three Canadian and one American civilians and forty-two American soldiers who were serving under Canadian command.

I attended DND Headquarters on 18 August, which was the first day that the public was allowed to view the cenotaph. The Carling Campus, formerly the home of Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel, is hardly a convenient place for the public to view this cenotaph.

Located in Nepean, a 20 minute drive west of Parliament Hill, the campus is in an area surrounded by woodlots and open fields, far away from the high-traffic areas frequented by tourists or even locals.

Once on the Carling Campus, one has to go through the security check-point at the main gate and along the walkways within the perimeter fence to a small building housing the memorial hall.

I don’t see too many people beyond those connected to the military or Afghanistan making a trip to view the cenotaph, especially given that prior arrangements must be made by e-mail to DND before admission is granted. No drop-in visits allowed apparently. Most people will likely stay in downtown Ottawa, where there are numerous monuments, statues, historic buildings and museums that tell the story of Canada’s history to visit. If anyone wants to prove me wrong, I strongly encourage it.

As I’ve said in this space before, I personally believes an ideal place for the Kandahar Memorial Cenotaph would be at the Canadian War Museum, which has more than enough space and would provide both protection from the elements and exposure to the general public.

The National Capital Commission announced back in June that public memorial to the Afghanistan mission will built near the Canadian War Museum by 2023.​

However, what makes the Kandahar Cenotaph so special is that it was created organically by the soldiers themselves who served in-country as a personal tribute to their fallen comrades. It deserves more respect than to be tucked away in an obscure corner of a defence establishment, in an remote location of an Ottawa suburb.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/re-dedication-of-kandahar-memorial-cenotaph-does-nothing-to-mend-insult/

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