Nancy Mansell wore a red poppy and a silver cross bearing her son's name to a dedication ceremony in which a suburban cul-de-sac was named after her son, Myles Mansell, killed in action in Afghanistan five years ago.
By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 21, 2011
A far-off war came to a quiet suburban neighbourhood on the weekend.
A pair of 105mm howitzers flanked the entrance to a cul-de-sac.
Artillery shells lined the street, while passage on a sidewalk was blocked by mortars.
Officers barked orders. Soldiers marched, stamping their feet in unison.
A military padre intoned a prayer.
In the chill of a winter’s afternoon, a lone bugler played “The Last Post” followed by a bagpiper droning a lament.
|Bombardier Myles Mansell (1980-2006)|
About 200 people, many in military uniform of green camouflage, witnessed a half-hour ceremony at an out-of-the-way intersection in Langford on Saturday.
One who attended was a mother who wore a red poppy and a silver cross on her cloth coat. The latter, formally known as a Memorial Cross, is an award one never wishes to receive.
It is a memento of loss and sacrifice.
Her cross bore the name and serial number of Myles Stanley John Mansell, a bombardier killed in action in Afghanistan five years ago.
Those have been tough years for Nancy Mansell, a mother who wears her son’s name on an award.
Joined by her husband, Alan, she travelled from their farm in the North Thompson, outside Barriere, to the family’s old stomping grounds, a once rural community now transformed into a bedroom community of the nearby capital city.
The Mansells returned to Langford for the unveiling of a memorial plaque and the naming of Myles Mansell Road in honour of their son.
“It’s important for us to know that others think of Myles. And remember Myles. We don’t want him to be forgotten,” she said, contemplating such an outcome. “Just a number.”
She greeted well-wishers with the courtesy of someone who has become accustomed to accepting the condolences of strangers.
Lillian Szpak, a Langford councillor whose husband, Robert, is a physiotherapist with the Canadian Forces, approached to shake her hand.
“Thank you for speaking,” the mother told the politician.
“There’s very little anyone actually can say,” Ms. Szpak replied.
“Just knowing that we’re not alone,” Ms. Mansell said.
“The community is there,” the politician said. “All the best to you.”
So it has been for the past five years, since the awful day when the family learned the terrible news and the country was told four young soldiers had been killed by a roadside bomb. Also lost were other fine men named Turner and Dinning and Payne. In their grief, the Mansells had the grace to send condolence notes to the other families.
There had been 11 casualties before their deaths on April 22, 2006. Now the grim total is 154 members of the Canadian Forces, as well as a diplomat, a journalist and two aid workers.
A young man who carried in his middle names those of grandfathers who fought in the Second World War will now be forever aged 25.
“He thought he could make a difference in Afghanistan,” his mother said. “He thought it was the right thing to do.”
A female reporter gently asked how she was coping.
“Are you a mother?”
The answer lingered in the chill air.
“You’re never totally happy again. Special occasions are difficult. A big loss. You can’t replace it. You can’t fill it. He was my baby.”
Myles Mansell was born on Aug. 5, 1980, which means his mother was pregnant with the youngest of her three sons when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The attack initiating a full-fledged counter-insurgency war against Muslim tribesmen, setting in motion events yet to have come to a conclusion. The Mansells are a family caught up in geopolitical machinations beyond their control.
“Didn’t pay too much attention in those days,” she said. “We didn’t pay that much attention until Myles said he was going. After we lost him, we paid a lot of attention.
“My husband has read many, many books about Afghanistan and how we got to where we are. It’s complicated.
She has visited the Canadian base at Kandahar Airfield in that “desolate country,” a pilgrimage made to better understand her son’s sacrifice.
As a boy, he had been known as Smiley Myley, a character who came home from school one day in tears because a teacher had told the class that miles were to be replaced by kilometres and he thought he’d have to change his name, too. He found his place outside of the shadow of his two successful older brothers in the military, where he served with the 5th (B.C.) Field Artillery Regiment.
In some ways, the naming of a suburban cul-de-sac for a fallen soldier seems inadequate for the loss. But the short street, carved from a forest of towering pines, will be filled with new homes and those homes will be filled with children who, one hopes, will one day study the life of a good Canadian soldier who wanted to do the right thing for the Afghans.
The Mansell family gathered to celebrate the naming of Myles Mansell Road in suburban Langford. He was remembered by (back row, from left) fiancee Lindsay Sullivan, now a nursing student in Nanaimo; sister-in-law Sheila Mansell; mother Nancy Mansell; father Alan Mansell; nephew Logan Myles Mansell, aged four, and niece Emma Mansell, aged five.