Strains of Antonin Dvorak's "Going Home" played on the bagpipes ushered Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren's body into the Peterborough Armoury Saturday morning. About 800 family members, friends, and military colleagues of Cpl. McLaren gathered to honour the soldier during an hour-long funeral service. At the request of the family, members of the media were not invited inside for the service.
Cpl. McLaren, 23, was killed together with Pte. Demetrios Diplaros of Toronto and Warrant Officer Robert John Wilson of Keswick, Ontario, when their armoured vehicle struck an improvised explosive device outside Kandahar city December 5th. Eight pall bearers from the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, the unit Cpl. McLaren began his military career with, carried the Canadian flag-draped coffin down snow-covered Murray Street and into the armoury. Perched on top of the coffin lay McLaren's regimental belt and a wreath. A pallbearer followed the coffin carrying McLaren's headdress and the general campaign star medal he received during his first tour of Afghanistan in 2006. Members of McLaren's family, including his father, Alan, stepmother, Jo-Anne, brother Miles, and fiancée Michelle Shaw, gripped each other as they followed the coffin into the armoury. The coffin was carried up a red carpet lined by an honour guard composed of members of the First Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment based in Petawawa where McLaren had been stationed since 2007.
The Christian Ecumenical service included reflections from Alan McLaren, Miles, Shaw and several readings including Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and Psalm 91, known as The Soldier's Psalm. In his speech, Alan recalled how his son was born prematurely and underweight. At age two, Alan said, Mark's height mark on the wall was higher than his older brother, Miles's, height at age two, meaning Mark would grow to be taller than his brother. "Mark never let his older brother forget this," Alan said. Alan also described how his son earned respect by his actions. When Mark was 12, he asked to go to summer camp but later changed his mind, Alan said, "I had to pick him up and carry him to the car," After a week at camp, Alan picked his son up. "He turned to me and said 'Thank you for kicking my ass,'" Alan said.
The homily was delivered by military Reverend Capt. Greg Bailey, who called Cpl. McLaren a Canadian hero. Notable military dignitaries attended the service, including John Colin, the area commander for the Land Forces Central General Brigade; Dean Milner, commander of the Second Brigade based in Petawawa; Cpl. McLaren's commanding officer LCol. Conrad Mialkowski of the Royal Canadian Regiment First Battalion; Cpl. McLaren's team leader and a fellow soldier who accompanied his body from Afghanistan.
Dozens of mourners hugged members of the family as they boarded three coach buses to take them to the internment service in Ottawa at 3 p.m. Cpl. McLaren will be buried in the Beechwood National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. Members of McLaren's family, including his stepmother, Jo-Anne, said the service was moving. "We need to honour Mark. He made us all proud, and he made us all look good," she said, tears brimming from her eyes. "The thing that hurts the most is that I'll never hear him again and I'll never hug him again and he's in that hearse. You can't describe that feeling."
Cpl. McLaren's older brother Miles was stoic as he addressed the media after the funeral: "Canada lost a hero. He's going to live right here in our hearts forever. He's my brother and he's the best man that I know. No one is going to replace him, but I hope some Canadian boys, especially the ones overseas, can do him proud because somebody has to make this world a better place and my brother isn't here to do it like he normally would. There is nothing better than to send him off with family and friends. He's getting the respect he deserves right now."