No Stone Left Alone honours veterans’ ultimate sacrifice

Lillian Mary Hidson may have been deprived time to raise all her children – but because one of her daughters abided by her dying wishes, some might say she has a hand in shaping, not just her own, but many youth across this nation.

“After the war, she married my father and had 13 children in 15 years,” Hidson’s daughter, Maureen Bianchini Purvis, says.

“Number 11 is me.”

In 1971, Hidson was just 52 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She was gone about six months later.

Bianchini Purvis was just 12 years old and on her first day of Grade 7 when she lost her mom.

But she was left with one request – to never forget her mother on Armistice Day.

And she never has.

“That first November, I took a poppy and put it down,” Bianchini Purvis says of the annual gesture at her mother’s headstone.

“’You asked me to remember you – I’m here to remember you.’ I did that for a few years.”

Soon, however, it went beyond remembering just her mother – a woman who, just like her husband, wed in her military uniform and loved her country.

In 2011, Bianchini Purvis founded the No Stone Left Alone Foundation to recognize “the sacrifice of the Canadian men and women who lost their lives in the service of peace, at home and abroad.”

It became her mission to see that one day all the soldiers’ headstones would have a poppy placed in their honour.

The simple but compelling act resonated with many and over the years, thousands in communities across the nation created their own No Stone ceremonies.

Last year, more than 8,000 students honoured nearly 50,000 Canadian Armed Forces veterans at 101 cemeteries.

This year marks the eighth annual No Stone ceremonies.

“We’ve touched a nerve,” Bianchini Purvis says. “We have never had to recruit one community.”

Bianchini Purvis is proud her mother’s wishes morphed into a platform to share a broader message and honour other veterans. She believes getting youth engaged by actively placing a poppy before a headstone pulls them in and emotionally connects them with the meaning behind the gesture.

“I have seen kids take their coats off in the cold weather to try to feel what the soldiers felt like,” she says.

Airforce veteran and honorary colonel, John Melbourne, has spoken at past Calgary ceremonies but this year, the 83-year-old was at the No Stone event to talk to anyone who wanted to know more about soldiers’ sacrifices.

“To have young people learn Canadian history is very important,” Melbourne says. “There is a very large part of Canadian history related to the military. We do not teach enough Canadian history in schools, in my opinion. Putting a poppy on a military grave gives them a better understanding than just reading a history book.”

Melbourne says its poignant to see youth relate to the veterans they honour and he says that moment of connection, typically when a youth realizes they about the same age as the soldier they are honouring – is always heartbreaking.

“That gets you,” he says, choking up. “The military is a young person’s game.”

For Bianchini Purvis, the ceremonies are about all soldiers but at the same time, still very much about an eternal mother-daughter bond.

Shortly after Hidson’s death, taking a poppy to the cemetery, was just about a girl missing her mom.

But as time went on and Bianchini Purvis continued to honour her mother’s wishes, she noticed others lay buried nearby – deserving of the same honour.

“I would see how many they were, where she lay – there were 5,000 who lay around her,” Bianchini Purvis says.

Later, her own children asked, ‘Why don’t they all get one?’

And, well, the rest is history.

“I always get teary,” she says of the ceremonies. “I just say quietly to myself ‘Mom, we are not forgetting.’”

The No Stone Left Alone ceremony in Calgary was held on Nov. 5 at Burnsland and Union cemeteries.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which is commemorated every November 11 to mark an agreement signed between allies of the First World War for a ceasefire essentially ending the conflict.

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