A far-off war came to a quiet suburban neighbourhood on the weekend.
A pair of 105-mm 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.
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.
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.
"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.
She has visited the Canadian base at Kandahar Airfield in that "desolate country," a pilgrimage made to better understand her son's sacrifice.
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.
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