It has been three years since Ralph Wild last attended a Remembrance Day ceremony in person, but in some ways, it’s like he never left.
“I guess I’ve done this so many times it has got to be old,” the 104-year-old veteran said with a chuckle.
Wild has been attending events on Nov. 11 for as long as he can remember — often as one of the distinguished guests.
While he jokes they’re often the same, this year brought something different for him.
“First time I had to lay the wreath. I (used) to carry the torch,” he said Friday.
Wild was on hand for the return of the city’s largest Remembrance Day service at the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg, which drew a crowd of roughly 2,000 people.
The Joint Veterans Association hosted the service that, during pre-COVID-19 pandemic times, would see thousands.
Armand Lavallee, chair of the association, considers Friday’s turnout a positive after years of being apart because of the pandemic.
“It feels good. It’s nice to see the people coming back,” he said.
Premier Heather Stefanson, Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal and Mayor Scott Gillingham were some of the dignitaries who attended the ceremony.
The morning included a prayer of remembrance, a moment of silence, and the reciting of the poem “In Flanders Fields” during the passing of the torch and the laying of roughly two dozen wreaths adorned with poppies.
Wild, flanked by one of his family members, took some time to lay a wreath. It may have been a first for him, but something he is familiar with from attending ceremonies for the Battle of Britain.
Wild was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1918. He moved to Winnipeg in 1947 with his wife, who was from Manitoba.
He joined the Royal Air Force when he was 20 years old as part of England’s mandatory six-month military service rule, but ended up serving for about seven years, including during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
This year’s ceremony honouring those who served during the battle was cancelled after Queen Elizabeth died.
Wild said getting to carry on the tradition of laying a wreath was “quite good.”
“Whether that will happen in another year from now, who knows if I will still be around,” he joked.
Jane Brown, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Provincial Council Ladies Auxiliary, said it’s important to honour those who sacrificed their lives.
Brown had an uncle who was killed while serving in the Second World War.
“We need to remember and never forget the sacrifice that was made,” she said.
“Remembrance should always be done in some way. Maybe the characters change, but the act of remembrance should always be the same and revered.”