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First installation of Cambridge Poppy Project commemorates veterans of War in Afghanistan

Cambridge Poppy Project installations will be going up around the city Friday

The result of a year of work by local volunteers and people from around the world took shape at the Cambridge Armoury on Thursday as the team finished the first installation of the Cambridge Poppy Project.

By the end of the day Friday, the city's three Idea Exchanges, an interior wall at Cambridge Memorial Hospital and 10 other locations will be draped with poppy clad netting to honour and remember Canada's war veterans.

The city's fire department is sending two platoons to help with the installations, which will take all day Friday, said project coordinator Jayne Herring.

Herring initiated the project after she saw a similar display on a trip to Niagara Falls last year, initially setting a goal to collect 10,000 hand knit and crocheted poppies. 

That amount grew to 38,000 by late September after interest in the project took off. Over the summer, volunteers secured the finished poppies to 20 by 30 foot netting.

Team member Susan Cresswell was in charge of the armoury display with the help of the Royal Highland Fusiliers' Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel Brian Rainville.

They chose the deactivated light armoured vehicle (LAV) as a way to honour the 158 Canadian armed forces members killed during the War in Afghanistan. 

Rainville said he immediately thought the Poppy Project was an excellent idea and wanted to be part of it, believing the LAV was the perfect site for the poppies.

The special installation features larger poppies than on the other installations going up around the city on Friday. 

Cresswell said the group chose the larger design because 158 smaller poppies "would have looked pretty insignificant" on a vehicle that size.

The Cambridge LAV III was installed in 2016 and was among the first of 250 LAVs used in Afghanistan to be installed as memorials in communities across Canada.

"I'm quite impressed the community came forward to do this," Rainville said of the project.

Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel Jane Klugman said she loved it while overseeing the installation Thursday.

"I think it's beautiful. Anything we can do commemorate our veterans is so meaningful, especially with so much going on in the world right now," she said.

The tribute to all the 40,000 Canadian men and women who served in Afghanistan is particularly meaningful in a year that saw NATO allies withdraw their troops, she added.

Rainville said that despite everything that's taken place in Afghanistan in recent months, what remains is a lasting legacy among the people in terms of changed expectations and knowledge things can get better.

Captain Mark Richardson agrees. Like many who served in Afghanistan he had mixed feelings about the allied withdrawal that left the Taliban in power. But instead of dwelling on that fact, he said he likes to think Canada's efforts "had a positive impact and that we made a difference."

"There's a whole generation that knows there is a possibility of a better life," added Chief Warrant Officer Merlin Longaphie. Even though the Taliban has regained control of the country, they can't erase the desire of the Afghan people to want to better themselves and their country, he said.

A full list of the 15 installations will be posted on the Poppy Project website late in the day on Oct. 29.

The installations will remain in place until noon on Nov. 12, at which time the netting will be removed and sections of it cut up to be distributed to long-term care homes, elementary schools and legions across the region so they can be used in their Remembrance Day ceremonies.

"The idea is to share it with the community," Herring said.

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Doug Coxson

About the Author: Doug Coxson

Doug has been a reporter and editor for 25 years, working mainly in Waterloo region and Guelph
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