No Stone Left Alone started as a promise made by a young girl to her mother in her last moments.
Her mother told her, “Please don’t forget me on Armistice Day.” It’s a request that then 12 year old, Maureen Bianchini was unsure of how to fulfill. “I remember thinking Armistice Day, what does she mean?”
Every Remembrance Day after her mother passed, Maureen placed a poppy on her mother’s headstone and later on her father’s. The quiet ceremony meant to honour her parents as veterans of World War 2. “I’m the daughter of those soldiers that were so happy to come and settle in Edmonton in their wartime houses and their buddies down the road. Canada was beautiful, cold and free.”
The tradition continued until Maureen became an adult, when she became a wife, a mother and now a grandmother. In November, 2011, a question from one Maureen’s daughters changed everything. “Why don’t the other soldiers have poppies?” Maureen and her husband Randall Purvis, answered the question through action. It started in Edmonton with a small group of students laying poppies on the headstones of fallen Canadian heroes at Beechmount Cemetery that year. The movement expanded into St. Albert, Calgary and now students nationwide and recently in Poland.
“I think I am stunned”, remarks Maureen, “I didn’t know I touched such a nerve.”
Maureen and her husband Randall Purvis co-founded No Stone Left Alone or NSLA. The charitable organization, works directly with Canadian Armed Forces, teachers and students. The goal is to recognize the sacrifices of the military by taking students to the Fields of Honour to place poppies on headstones. Randall says the impact is long lasting. “We have amazing stories of students who have for the first time see what a cemetery looks like with soldiers who didn’t come home. It profoundly changes how they look at the world”.
Part of the experience includes students writing a reflection letter. One student wrote:
“I thought that the No Stone Left Alone ceremony was a beautiful ceremony. It paid respect to all the soldiers who have served or have lost their lives for our freedom. I don’t feel like a lot of other ceremonies do this, which made this one so special. This ceremony has caused me to think about all those who have made sacrifices so that I have freedom and a structured society.”
Maureen says it goes beyond learning in a textbook. “Kids are taught in school all the lessons of remembrance but they don’t feel it. They look at that headstone and that guy is laying right there he had a wife, a mother and a sister, and he didn’t come home.”
In 2016, 7,046 students, 111 cemeteries, and nearly 45 thousand Canadian soldiers were remembered. NSLA is expanding so quickly it needs help. Donations help with educating students, daily operations, along with helping veterans and groups such as, the Military Families Fund and the Legion Poppy Fund. “The operation of it alone to maneuver the systems to get the children out there. I can’t do it by myself, there is no way. It’s a simple ceremony in costs, bussing, the supplies, and if you’re lucky we can re-use the poppies, but the logistics alone to communicate a national organization, we need bodies and funds. We need that to keep it going.”
Randall hopes with continued support, NSLA can answer the calls from Korea, South Africa and Europe where requests to honour fallen Canadian soldiers are coming in.
“They’ve given the ultimate sacrifice. Now more than ever, it’s the serving soldier that deserve our respect. They are incredible individuals willing to sacrifice everything for our freedom.”
To learn about No Stone Left Alone or to donate https://www.nostoneleftalone.ca/donate