Since 2016, the town of Sackville has found a unique way to remember its veterans. Every November, banners featuring veteran profiles can be seen hanging from lamp posts all over town. While not the first community to do this, Sackville has become well known for it, thanks to Garth Zwicker, the man credited with bringing the idea to the area.
While visiting his father, a Korean War veteran, in St. John NB, Zwicker heard about commemorative banners being sponsored by the legion. After being inspired by their unveiling ceremony, he decided to bring the idea to the local legion. With their support, the project was proposed to the town council.
The project started small with only 16 banners in 2016, and its popularity has exploded with 110 flags being featured throughout town in 2020. The town has expanded its limit to 125 for 2021 with 10 new flags already reserved. The town itself puts up the flags every year at the beginning of October and takes them down again shortly after Remembrance Day. They also provide the hardware needed to put the banners up, which helps keep the costs low for the families looking to buy one.
The commemorative banners are approximately 0.6 meters wide and 1.2 meters high, usually costing $210.00. While most banners in Sackville feature veterans from WW2, the family of any veteran is welcomed to sponsor one. Designed by Graeme Mesheau, the Sackville flags prominently feature a photograph of the veteran, along with their name, when they served, and their branch of the military. Many of the banners have the Union Jack in addition to the Canadian flag. “Before 1965, Canada’s flag was the Union Jack,” said Zwicker. “WW1, WW2, and Korean war vets like my dad served under it. So, the banner design respects those who served under either flag.”
“Somehow I missed the first one,” said Janice Fahey, whose father, Charles Butcher, served as a tail gunner for the RCAF in WW2. “When I first saw the banners going up, I thought ‘dad should up there!’” Fahey said her father was always very proud of his service.
The banners are a reminder of the veterans for everyone who visits Sackville, but for many of the people who grew up here, they hold a deeper meaning. “I love it, because the vast majority of our flags are commemorating WW2, and they were my parents’ peers,” said Allison Butcher, whose father, Charles Butcher, and uncles, Ron and Albert Butcher, are featured on the banners. “I remember them from when I was a kid. Those were the people whose houses I trick-or-treated at, they were my parent’s friends, so it’s really special for me.”
Due to COVID-19 restricting gatherings, things had to be done a little bit differently this Remembrance Day. Previously, when the banners went up, they were displayed in the legion for viewing. They would hold a dedication ceremony and then people were invited to mingle and read the veterans stories that were written on their behalf by whomever had purchased the banner. This year, the families that sponsored a veteran received a book detailing the journey of the banners in Sackville, as well as a small biography of each of the featured veterans. The biographies help the reader connect with the veteran, providing a little bit about their life and service.
“First the banners were just a good way to honour veterans, any veteran,” said Zwicker. “Then, as I read the stories families provided, I started to get not only a picture of the strong military history of Sackville, but also a picture of the history of this area as many who came back after WW2 played a major role in how Sackville developed. I love the stories, it’s like meeting a new hero every time I get a new one.”
“Bill Milner’s banner went up this year, and he and his wife were very dear friends of my parents,” said Butcher. “He passed away about 10 years ago and his story was in the book this year. I knew he had been in the war, but in the story, it talked about how he was the first one off his barge on D-day. It was usually the commanding officer who led the way, but because Bill was over 6 feet tall and the seas were so rough, he went first. The things I read about that I never knew; it was so cool”
“The banners make me proud to be a Canadian”, said Zwicker, “Proud to live in a town that contributed so much, honoured to see the support this project gets, and absolutely thrilled to meet so many families who love and respect their veterans.”