One doesn’t usually expect a stroke of luck at a funeral.
But it’s what Eirik Bardal recently found and he’s got the regiment colours of the Winnipeg Grenadiers hanging on permanent loan in his funeral home to prove it.
"It’s an honour for me, my family and our business," said Bardal, a funeral director at the Neil Bardal Funeral Centre across from Brookside Cemetery, who hung the flags Fri., Oct. 26.
"No question, this doesn’t get done very often."
Bardal received the flags after a serendipitous encounter with a retired military general at a funeral in late August when the officer inquired about a plaque commemorating the Grenadiers in the centre’s reception area.
"As he put it to me, ‘I have two questions: How did it get there and what does it mean?’ I didn’t know who he was," Bardal admitted.
Bardal explained he hung the plaque in 2010 to commemorate his family’s involvement in the historic regiment, in particular his grandfather, who served in the 1941 Battle of Hong Kong.
That man would turn out to be Maj. Gen. Dennis Tabbernor, who, after a few phone calls, helped unearth and deliver the flags from a storage room at the Minto Armoury.
"The flags, those are the ones the boys carry," Bardal beamed.
"This is the Grenadiers home now."
The Grenadiers served in 20 battles during the First and Second World Wars, earning battle honours at Ypres, Passchendaele, and the Hindenburg Line to name a few.
About 75% of the regiment was killed over 18 days of fighting during the Battle of Hong Kong, with the rest becoming prisoners of war, Bardal said.
The regiment’s original flags burned along with the St. Matthews Anglican Church in the early 1940s. New flags were subsequently hung in the rebuilt church where they stayed until 2010.
The church, which is now being converted into housing, gave the flags to the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum, which has been looking for a home for the memorabilia ever since.
"You don’t want them sitting in a closet," said museum president Jerry Woodman, who lives in Charleswood.
"As long as we want them to be there, they can stay there."
Tabbernor, a Riverview resident, called the story of the Grenadiers "gripping" and that it was no-brainer to loan them to Bardal.
"The Grenadiers don’t have a museum," he said.
"We thought it would be an opportune moment to get some of their stuff out in a more public venue… where people can see them, ask them about them and Eirik can explain the significance of them."
More than 60 schools are expected to take part in the funeral centre’s annual Remembrance Day tours of the Field of Honour in Brookside. It’s important to share the stories of the regiment, Bardal said.
"If we don’t start educating everybody and supporting our veterans, we’ll keep going on with World War three, four, five," he said.