Richard Draffin, a former soldier turned calligrapher, has a ritual he follows each time he completes an entry in one of Canada’s books of remembrance.
Once the ink is dry, he runs his fingertips over the name of the fallen soldier, sailor or aircrew member — a gentle, personal tribute to a life cut short.
This past winter, Draffin added the names of the six aircrew and sailors killed one year ago today in the tragic crash of a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter in the Ionian Sea off Greece.
He also recorded the name of the military public affairs officer killed last spring in the crash of a CT-114 Tutor Snowbird demonstration jet.
“If you run your fingers over it softly, you can feel the ink,” said Draffin, who served for 28 years in the military. After retiring, he started a new career as the contract calligrapher maintaining the books which record the names of those who died in Canada’s service.
For Draffin, the work is personal. His grandfather’s name is recorded in the First World War book of remembrance; he knows the kind of closure that comes with seeing a loved one’s name given over to history.
“It is letting that … name live on,” he said. “It’s part of history. It’s part of us.”
Draffin said he tries to learn a little about every individual whose name he adds to the books of remembrance.
“There is a family behind each one of them,” he said. “It just sort of gives me a personal connection to it.”
So it was with the crew of the Cyclone that crashed off the Greek coast: Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, Capt. Kevin Hagen, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, Master-Cpl. Matthew Cousins and Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough.
An investigation into the crash that claimed their lives is still ongoing, but a preliminary flight safety investigation, released weeks after the accident, said the aircraft did not respond the way the crew had expected during a high-speed flypast of its home ship, HMCS Fredericton.
As he was adding the Cyclone crew to the list, Draffin also added the name of Capt. Jenn Casey, of 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, to the book set aside for those who died serving Canada.
There are eight books of remembrance in total, encompassing Canada’s major wars — including the War of 1812 — as well as its peacekeeping and Cold War casualties.
In normal times they would be on display in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. With Centre Block closed for renovations, and with the pandemic barring visitors from their new temporary home in Parliament’s West Block, the books — like so many things these days — can be accessed only online.
Veteran Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said the tragedy last year and the loss of life among so many young service members touched him deeply.
He said he looks forward to seeing the books go back on public display.
“When you go into that room and look at these books, it is so humbling to see the names,” MacAulay said. “It’s absolutely vital these names remain on display so that their memory is never lost.”