As one of the oldest veterans in the South Cariboo, Jim Milliken was honoured with the first Remembrance Day poppy of the year in 100 Mile House.
On a bitterly cold day in October, Milliken, 99, was wheeled outside his Fischer Place E-Wing for the poppy, which was passed to him by Royal Canadian Legion Branch 260 volunteer Elsie Urquhart on the blade of a paddle symbolizing his trips to the Bowron Lakes. As care aide Jenn Plewes pinned the poppy to his chest, Milliken remarked: “Too bad somebody didn’t bring me something warm.”
The ceremony kicks off the annual poppy campaign, which is to be officially marked by Canada’s Governor-General on Oct. 30. Close to $20 million is donated during the national poppy campaign each year, going directly into supporting veterans.
“We’re doing this whole poppy campaign for the veterans. Therefore, we’re pinning it on the man who deserves it,” said Leo Holthuysen, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 260. “He fought the war.”
At 18, Milliken hopped a freight train in Saskatchewan bound for Halifax and the Royal Canadian Navy. He signed up on Sept. 12, 1939, spending 52 months in the North Atlantic, mostly on the River-class destroyer HMCS Skeena, which was used for sonar detection.
“He wanted to go,” his daughter Susan MacPherson said. “I’m very proud of him. This is a great honour for him.”
After the war, Milliken moved to Vancouver, where his mother and sister were living, before settling down and raising a family in Williams Lake in the 1950s. An active man, he used to square dance, ride his mountain bike and toured the Bowron Lakes twice with his family, out-paddling all of them even when he was in his 80s. He liked to tell his daughters how he met the Queen Mother during a security parade in England, and Shirley Temple on a street corner in New York City.
He’s been at the Fischer Place E-wing since 2017 after he suffered a brain bleed and could no longer live on his own, MacPherson said.
Holthuysen said Milliken would have joined them at the Legion for the traditional post-Remembrance Day gathering if COVID hadn’t shut everything down this year. Even the poppy campaign will be “weird,” he said, with no cadets allowed to sell them outside the local grocery or liquor stores. The cadets usually bring in half of the poppy collection “because they’re all over the place.”
Holthuysen said most businesses in 100 Mile House will still carry a poppy box, while Legion volunteers will be on hand at displays at Save-On-Foods, the BC Liquor Store and the mall, where poppies will be sanitized and pinned to foam boards to reduce public contact. A large pail with a big hole will also be used for donations so people can drop in their cash without having to touch the pail. The Legion will not touch any of the money for 24 hours.
“It’s really bad we don’t have the cadets but we’re following command’s orders,” Holthuysen said. “It’s the best we can do. Our biggest concern is we have no contact or as little as possible.”
The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 260 is planning a drive-by ceremony on Nov. 11 to allow people to honour the fallen while adhering to COVID-19 protocols. Birch Avenue will be restricted to one-way traffic – south to north – at 11 a.m. so people can take a photo as they pass by, while those wishing to lay wreaths can buy them from the Legion and have them placed at the Cenotaph in their stead.
Despite the cold, Milliken said: “I feel good.” He then added: “I have no idea what’s going on.”