POLITICS

Mounties stand ceremonial guard to mark Victoria Cross winner, Ottawa shooting

07/05/2015 02:57 EDT | Updated 07/05/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - A sense of duty and history drove Staff Sgt. Dan Mayer of the RCMP to stand guard at the National War Memorial on Sunday.

History because the sentry duties marked 115 years since an RCMP officer was awarded the Victoria Cross, the country's highest military honour, for rescuing a wounded soldier while under fire.

Duty because Mayer and others who took sentry duty had personal connections to the events of Oct. 22, when Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was killed while standing watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Some were among the first responders to the memorial after the shootings on Oct. 22, and others remain charged with protecting the country from terrorist threats.

"I've spent a lot of years working in national security and for this event to have taken place, it hit home for me and specifically for that reason I felt a sense of duty to come down here today," Mayer said.

Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot Cirillo three times in the back on Oct. 22 before storming Parliament Hill, and being killed in a firefight with House of Commons and RCMP officers. Ever since, standing as the ceremonial guard at the memorial has taken on new meaning, Mayer said.

"This memorial was erected for blood that was spent, and unfortunately blood has been spent on this very site," Mayer said. "So for that reason it makes it even that much more meaningful for us to be here today and stand sentry."

Under a clear sky and bright sun, 10 Mounties volunteered their Sundays to don their ceremonial uniforms, known as the red serge, and took hour-long rotations in front of the memorial. Others mingled in the crowd of onlookers and tourists, a group of whom had come from as far away as Nepal, to talk about why they were at the memorial and pose for pictures.

"When we do this type of event, whether it be today, or whether it be on Canada Day or on any other type of ceremonial event, it's always a moment where we feel a great sense of pride being members of the RCMP and also being Canadian," Mayer said.

Normally, the military posts soldiers to stand guard over the tomb of the unknown soldier, which holds the remains of an unidentified soldier who died in the First World War.

It has become an annual tradition for the military to hand over sentry duties at the war memorial to the RCMP on July 5, the anniversary of the date in 1900 when a Mountie was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Sgt. Arthur Richardson had taken a leave of absence from the North-West Mounted Police to enlist in the military for the South African War at the turn of the 20th century and join Lord Strathcona's Horse regiment.

Richardson rode an injured horse through heavy crossfire, and within 300 metres of enemy lines, to rescue a wounded Canadian whose horse had been shot.

He returned to the Mounties after the war ended in 1902, where his story became as interesting as the story of his award.

He was discharged in 1907 due to poor health, and returned to his native England where he became a recluse.

While he was in England, another man named Arthur Richardson, a corporal in the British Army, assumed the real Richardson's identity and passed himself off as the Victoria Cross winner. His act fooled everyone: When he died, he received a funeral with military honours and a procession of his fellow soldiers, including the real Arthur Richardson.

As a result, Richardson gained some prominence later in his life.

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