By Jensen, Randy on November 10, 2020.
One woman’s promise to her grandfather, to continue to honour his late brother who died in the First World War, took on special added significance when she attended national Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa last year.
Jennifer No Runner made a vow to her grandfather, Bob No Runner (Ootsskaipisstsiisoka’simm), that she would do what she could to carry out his wishes to try to bring his brother, George Coming Singer also known as Roundnose (Ohkomkisi), back home to the Kainai Reserve.
“George’s mother died at an early age so the mother was my grandfather’s auntie, and when she died George was raised by Bob’s father, Running Calf,” she explained. “And so they raised him, and then he enlisted in the First World War. He had his training in Wainwright, and when he went overseas he got wounded in the leg. And then he was transferred to a hospital. But then at the hospital there was an outbreak of I think they called it (Spanish) flu. He ended up dying there and was buried over there.”
Tragically, George died just after the war had ended on Jan. 14, 1919 when he was just 23 years old. For many years, Bob never even knew where his brother was buried.
“Over the years Grandfather would mourn him,” she remembers. “So one day he visited me in around 1993 when I was living in Lethbridge. He made three requests to me saying he wanted to find out where his brother was buried, and if I could locate him. I said, ‘yes.’ The second wish was to go to visit him. The third wish was to bring him back home. So I agreed to everything, and not realizing it was a hard task.”
No Runner eventually found her uncle’s grave in Lenham Cemetery in England after writing to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but she was also informed that no soldier buried in a Commonwealth War Grave could ever be moved.
Hearing this, Bob asked his niece to call the head of the Commonwealth directly to obtain special permission.
“He told me he wanted to speak to the Queen about his brother so he could bring (George’s) body back home,” she remembers. “So he got me to call Buckingham Palace. But when I first called whoever was at the switchboard hung up on me with no explanation. I told my grandfather that they hung up on me. So he had me call again. This time a different switchboard operator was on the line, but at the time the Queen wasn’t home. She was out on tour somewhere. So I left a message for the Queen to give my grandfather a call.”
Sadly, before Bob could visit his brother’s grave in England he fell ill and passed away.
“A year before he died, my grandfather told me to keep honouring George,” she says. “So I made a promise to my grandfather I was going to continue honouring him. It bothered my grandfather that his brother is buried in a strange land.”
No Runner has continued to try to keep her promise to her grandfather, but it has not been easy for her with limited resources. She hasn’t been able to fly to England yet herself to visit George’s grave, but it is still something she hopes to do.
However, in November 2019 she did the next best thing when she attended the Aboriginal Veterans Ceremony and Turning of the Page Ceremony on Remembrance Day in Ottawa.
The Turning of the Page Ceremony takes place every day on Parliament Hill at 11 a.m. when a parliamentary officer turns one page forward in the Books of Remembrance which lists the names of all of Canada’s war dead. No Runner found out that by chance her uncle’s name appears on the page which is turned on Remembrance Day each year.
No Runner took her two nieces, Niki and Joel Cross Child, with her so they may learn to honour George Coming Singer as well in the years ahead.
“At 9 a.m. the Aboriginal War Veterans that had their ceremony there,” she remembers. “That morning I was dressed in my regalia to represent George. I had a photo of him. That ceremony took place for about an hour. It was such an honour to be there to actually continue in my grandfather’s place who honoured his brother at all times. From there, we went over to go to the Turning of the Pages at Parliament.”
No Runner says it was a wonderful experience, and by going she paid respect to both her uncle and her late grandfather.
“No one has ever represented George Coming Singer (at the ceremony),” she explains. “I was the first one in my family who took the time to go there. I was so proud to be able to carry on my grandfather’s honouring of his brother. I was happy, and it was exciting to have to walk through Ottawa in my regalia to represent George. And I was sad; I wished my grandfather was there. But I thought of him in spirit. I was there continuing his wishes, and also honouring and recognizing him.”
No Runner says she has not given up on fulfilling her grandfather’s other two wishes, and is using the experience in Ottawa as inspiration to continue her quest.
“According to our traditions, he (George) needs to come back home,” she states. “I have tried different ways of trying, and so I am going to continue trying.”
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