The family of John Henry Foster Babcock, the last known Canadian veteran of the First World War, has refused Ottawa's offer of a state funeral.
During his life, Mr. Babcock – known as Jack – asked to be cremated, with his ashes scattered in the Pacific mountains where he had loved to hike. More than 100,000 Canadians had signed a statement asking Parliament to give Mr. Babcock a state funeral and Parliament voted in favour of it, but Mr. Babcock himself said he didn't want it.
“The government of Canada has been in contact with members of Mr. Babcock's family regarding their funeral preferences. As you can appreciate, this is a very personal matter for them and I will not comment any further,” said Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“Today, the family of Mr. Babcock mourns the passing of a great man. Today, Canada mourns the passing of an entire generation, a generation that defined our nation.”
Mr. Babcock, who died at 109, was the last of the 650,000 men and women to serve in the uniforms of their country's armed forces in the conflict of 1914-1918. He had lied about his age to enrol, and he became the last living Canadian veteran of what was called the Great War in May, 2007.
In the absence of a state funeral, the Historica-Dominion Institute is calling on the government to declare a National Day of Commemoration in honour of the veterans of the First World War, including the more than 68,000 who died.
The last French veteran, who also lied about his age to join the foreign legion and fight in the trenches, died in 2008 at 110. The last British soldier who fought in the trenches died in July of 2009, at 111.
Frank Buckles, the last living U.S. veteran, who also lied about his age to get into the army, turned 109 this month.
The only conflict Mr. Babcock witnessed during the war came on the day the armistice was signed, Nov. 11, 1918, when a fight broke out between Canadian and British soldiers. A fortnight later, Mr. Babcock was back in Canada.
“I just happened to be at a certain place at certain time,” Mr. Babcock said in 2007, brushing aside the thought of a state funeral.