Malvern grad returns to share Afghanistan experience

A piece of Kandahar, Afghanistan is now among the memorials at Malvern Collegiate honouring Canadian soldiers.

Major Rebecca Evans speaks to students at Malvern CI, her former high school, during a Remembrance Day service. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Major Rebecca Evans speaks to students at Malvern CI, her former high school, during a Remembrance Day service.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

It is a shard of rock that Major Rebecca Evans, a Malvern grad, kept from the base of a cenotaph that stood at Kandahar Airfield.

“To you it may look like an insignificant rock,” she told Malvern students on Remembrance Day.

“But I do feel that a school that invests $50,000 into a monument is going to treat it well,” she added, referring to a WWI statue restored at the school two years ago.

As Canadian and other NATO forces withdraw from their decade-long mission in Afghanistan, the Canadian cenotaph at Kandahar was dismantled. Plaques for the 158 Canadians killed in the conflict now lie in Ottawa.

Maj. Evans, who served two tours in Afghanistan, told students about one of the soldiers who died there: Captain Nichola Goddard.

When she met Goddard, Evans had just graduated from Malvern to Royal Military College, Kingston, where Goddard was three years her senior.

“Her job was to keep me in line,” she said, smiling.

Goddard was killed during a firefight with Taliban insurgents on the outskirts of Kandahar in 2006.

“That was a tough year for this country,” Maj. Evans said, noting that Goddard’s husband, Jason Beam, was the first widower in Canada to receive a Memorial Cross.

Receiving Maj. Evans’ gift was Nichole Chong, a member of Malvern’s Save Our Soldiers (S.O.S.) club.

Last winter, the S.O.S. club mailed 80 greeting cards to Canadian Forces in Afghanistan and raised money for local legions through a paracord bracelet campaign.

They plan to mail more cards and also hand-knit socks this year, likely their last mail-out to Afghanistan, where 950 Canadian Forces members remain to help train Afghan forces.

As they withdraw, the S.O.S. club will shift its focus to supporting local veterans as they resettle in Canada.

At the ceremony, both Eng and Chong spoke about the impact of the federal government’s new policy of paying a single lump sum to veterans instead of a defined-benefit pension.

History teacher Mike Izzo spoke about similar efforts made by Malvern students nearly a century ago.

While the 100 “Boys of Malvern” were deployed in WWI – some to battles at Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele – students back at the school fundraised enough money to buy a military vehicle, and also sent socks to soldiers fighting in the cold, wet trenches.

Malvern grads have served in every major military conflict Canada has been part of, from WWII to the Korean War, peacekeeping missions and the war in Afghanistan.

But it is the statue outside the school, commissioned in 1922 to honour those who served in WWI, where Malvern’s military history was founded.

Principal Diane Sharpe noted the significance of its sculptor, Emanuel Otto Hahn, best known for designing the caribou on Canada’s 25-cent coin and the Bluenose on the dime.

As a commission to a Canadian sculptor born in Germany, Sharpe said the statue was not only meant as a symbol of sacrifice, but also of national reconciliation.

“Today is a solemn day,” she said at the ceremony. “We come together, not in glorification of war, but in remembrance, respect and gratitude to the men and women who served their country in our armed forces.”

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