OPINION: Vandalism of Cenotaph soldier an insult to community

The bronze soldier, known as “Tommy,” has adorned Sarnia’s Cenotaph since 1922. Sarnia Police photo

Phil Egan & Mary-Jane Egan

It was a stinging slap in the face to the memories of all who have answered Canada’s call to arms.

What’s more, it desecrated the sacrifice of Sarnia’s fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen whose names, in the hundreds, are recorded on the Cenotaph in Veterans Park.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley spoke of “sadness and outrage” after vandals pried the rifle off the First World War statue, known as “Tommy,” on April 6. The bronze soldier has stood sentinel over what Bradley called “this Hallowed ground” since 1922.

Royal Canadian Legion Vice President Les Jones, a former police officer and veteran of the First Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, said it was “incomprehensible” someone could commit such a thoughtless crime against “an empty tomb honouring our brave men and women.”

When John Swart learned the metal gun had been stolen, however, he knew his members would spring into action. Swart, president of the Sarnia-Lambton Building Construction and Trades Council, said his members were appalled at the disrespect shown Canada’s war vets.

His 7,000-member Council is part of a national campaign known as ‘Helmets to Hardhats,’ which recruits veterans to construction apprentice trades once they’ve completed their service. So the desecration of Tommy hit a nerve.

The members, who represent all construction trades from operating engineers to insulators and laborers, are raising money to cover the restoration cost.

It’s hoped the latest estimate of $15,000 to remove, repair and replace the statue can be reduced through a Council member crane operator doing the job.

“I can’t speak for all contractors, but I’m hoping volunteers and companies will come to the plate and help us out,” said Swart.

He has support from Mayor Bradley, who pledged city assistance with permits and road closures, as well as Bluewater Power, if hydro lines are in the way. The work is expected to begin this summer.

Project Manager Tom Klaasen, of Memorial Restorations, Inc. and acting for the Sarnia Historical Society, said a 3-D image of a First World War Lee Enfield rifle will be used to produce a rendering for casting.

The bronze alloy replica rifle will then be securely added to the refurbished Tommy.

Repairing the vandalized statue is part of an overall restoration of the Cenotaph being done by the Sarnia Historical Society in tandem with the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 62.

A rededication is planned for later this year.

Anyone wishing to contribute to the Cenotaph restoration can contact Cory Burke, president of the Sarnia Historical Society, by email at cory@sarniahistoricalsociety.com.