This is Pam Osmond’s first year as the Royal Canadian Legion president, and already under her guidance the Port aux Basques Branch 11 has grown.
Some of that growth can be attributed to new initiatives that may be considered little gestures but do signify a change.
This year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, Osmond trekked up to the War Memorial and made a list of all who had served in every war, including Afghanistan. Then she contacted a Facebook group she had spotted called NL Rock and asked them to paint a Remembrance Day rock for each fallen soldier.
“I thought ‘Oh my God. This is awesome,’” says Osmond, who is finding that little touches can make a huge impact. “I asked them if they would mind doing 158 rocks with Afghanistan (for) the ones that served over in Afghanistan.”
This will also be the first year in a while that the local legion will be hosting a sit-down supper for its members, a tradition Osmond is keen on reviving.
Volunteering for organizations is something Osmond does regularly. She was drawn to the Legion in part because her husband, Kevin, is a retired veteran. But while she may have been keen to join, Kevin was initially more reluctant.
“I’m not usually part of the Legion. This is my first year doing it, all because of my trip in Afghanistan. I stays away from it as much as I can,” admits Kevin. “I guess it’s just a reminder of what happened in certain places.
“It’s like when we came back from Afghanistan. We came back Nov. 4, Nov. 5 and we were at Remembrance Day in Edmonton Nov. 11.”
But that was before, and now that he’s been going to the Legion for the past year Kevin has found his attitude has shifted. He’s now the regular bingo caller and says there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for the Legion or its members.
“Oh, I love it. You get to meet people, you know?,” he said. “Cause, like I said, I’ve been locked up more or less. I kept myself away from people.”
Pam agreed, “That’s the thing with the veterans. For some reason they look at this Legion with stigma when they come out of serving. It took my husband 10 years to come in here.”
Pam believes it’s the military aspect that is off putting for former veterans.
“Mentally they can’t. They can’t walk in that door,” she said. “They’ve lost all their trust. They lose a lot when they’re overseas.”
Pam has been reaching out to other veterans, and they are slowly coming around. One has begun volunteering as a bartender, and there’s a new sergeant-at-arms coming into the Legion as well.
“He didn’t want anything to do with the executive until we came on board, and me reaching out to them one-on-one I think really helped,” Pam said.
She’s also been working to entice younger members to join the executive and pitch in to volunteer. To that end the branch has been hosting weekly dances featuring live music, and fundraising through the still-popular Chase The Ace, bingo and even raffles for meat products. Naturally, members are hard at work selling poppies at the mall.
“We need people to come and get on membership, because all this money goes back to command, which helps back the veterans,” Pam explained. “So, say someone had a flood. They need money for a washer and dryer. This is where the money comes from.”
When Pam took over as president in April, there were 66 members. That has since climbed to 80, with another 10 set to sign on, and she is confident she will exceed her original goal of 100 members before the end of the year.
More members will mean the Port aux Basques branch can offer much more support for local veterans, particularly when it comes to mental health related issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m in the process of getting peer support training here,” says Pam, who has also worked out a sponsorship with a business partner for such things as wellness training workshops. “We’re hoping to get a lot of mental stuff here on the go for the veterans, and some training.”
In the meantime, Pam is helping out wherever she can, be it bartending or just calling up a former member for a chat and hopefully enticing that person to rejoin. Talking to people is one of the things she enjoys the most.
Classie Marshall, 86, has been a member for 20 years and currently serves as the branch secretary. She joined the Legion because she enjoys line dancing.
“Dave Elms was there, and he was trying to get a pin for bringing in membership,” she recalls with a laugh. “He told us if we didn’t join the Legion we wouldn’t be able to line dance there. So we all joined the Legion so we could do the line dancing, and after we joined they drove us down in the basement so we all quit, except for me.”
Classie still goes line dancing when she can.
“This job is very rewarding here. I love it,” says Pam. “There’s a lot of potential here.”
Remembrance Day Schedule of Events for Port aux Basques Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 11:
Parade beginning at the Grand Bay Mall at 10:40 a.m., weather permitting. In the event of bad weather, the ceremony will be held at St. James Elementary School. Service begins at 11 a.m. Guest speaker is Rev. Clayton Billard.
Any family of a veteran may purchase a wreath to lay at the War Memorial. Contact the legion directly for more information. Currently there are over 30 families registered to lay a wreath.
After the service concludes, soup and sandwiches will be available to all members of the public at the Legion.
At 4:29 p.m. the Bells of Peace will ring out across the southwest coast and Canada to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War.
At 5:30 the sit down supper for veterans, Legion members and guests will begin. The cost is $15 for members, $20 for non-members, and free for veterans and their caregivers.
Poppies are currently available at the mall, many local stories, and 2357 St. James Army Cadets are also going door to door.