Prime Minister Stephen Harper's
Tribute to Canada's Fallen Soldiers
at the Launch of Remembrance
November 6, 2006 ~ Ottawa, Ontario
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, students, veterans and members
of the Canadian Forces. And thank you, Flight Sergeant Brooks (Tanya),
for your kind introduction.
I have the honour of welcoming you all here today. But it is more. It
is a privilege to be in the presence of so many people who have done so
much for our country. We are gathered here in the magnificent new Canadian
War Museum to mark the beginning of a week of remembrance.
Remembrance Week will climax next Saturday…
…at the eleventh hour…
…of the eleventh day …
…of the eleventh month…
…with two minutes of silence…
…as Canadians pause to remember the more than 116,000 men and women
who have laid down their lives for our country.
Canada’s tradition of remembrance began 88 years ago with the end of
the Great War. Today the tradition continues as strong as ever. In
fact, turnout at Remembrance Day ceremonies has been growing in recent
years. Much of the credit for the durability of this tradition goes to
those Canadians who dedicate themselves to the teaching of history. They
pass our story on from generation to generation. They are social studies
and history teachers, authors and filmmakers, archivists and researchers,
and songwriters and poets.
No single storyteller has contributed more to our tradition of remembrance
than Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. His immortal poem, "In Flanders
Fields," was inspired by his aching grief for a fallen comrade.
When we hear his words…
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,"
We cannot fail to be moved by them: every schoolchild has been taught
them. The families of our veterans have lived them. They are carved
deep into the Canadian soul. McCrae speaks on behalf of the tens of thousands
of ordinary Canadians who, throughout our history have volunteered to fight
and die to defend our society's fundamental values: Freedom, democracy,
human rights and the rule of law.
Every one of those brave young men and women has a story to tell. Most
are almost anonymous, their stories known only to their families, who pass
them down through the ages like precious heirlooms.
One such story is that of Private James Teskey. Born and raised
in Deloraine, Manitoba, and Okotoks, Alberta, he was just 17 when he volunteered
to fight for king and country. Wearing his uniform, and a proud smile,
he left his family behind on the farm, shipped across the Atlantic, trained
for weeks in England, and then found himself surrounded by death and destruction
in the bloodiest war the world had ever known. After 34 days of horrific
trench warfare at the Battle of Arras in June 1917, that war consumed him
too. He was not yet 19 years old.
I know his story because James Teskey would become my wife’s great-uncle.
This summer Laureen and I visited his grave in northern France. Seeing
the cross with his name on it for the first time brought the family stories
of her childhood to life, and almost a century later his sacrifice still
moved his grand-niece to tears.
Because we are Canadians. We remember.
We remember that the Dominion of Canada was barely 50 years old when
nearly 100,000 of her 8 million citizens fought the famous Battle of
Vimy Ridge. On Vimy Ridge, the Canadians succeeded where others had
failed. It was the most imported Allied victory at that point in the war.
But for Canada, it was much more. That day marked the beginning of a new
era for our country.
Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, commander of one of the brigades
that stormed the Ridge, put it best:
"It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade," he said.
"I thought then that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation."
Six months later, Allied commanders called on the Canadians again, this
time to break the stalemate at Ypres. Twenty thousand soldiers fought in
the neutral zone and captured the Village of Passchendaele. The
price paid was extremely high – 16,000 fallen, including the great Canadian
patriot from Quebec, Talbot Papineau.
Papineau, a brilliant lawyer and orator - whom many expected to one
day become prime minister - was one of Canada’s most eloquent champions
of the cause. In defence of Canada's participation in the First War, he
wrote: "It is true that Canada has not heard the roar of German guns, nor
been struck by deadly zeppelins, But every shot fired against Belgium or
France was aimed at much as Canada's heart as at the bodies of our brave
allies." As was the case two decades later, when the mother countries of
our English and French populations were attacked once again.
In the Second World War, we mustered one million volunteers for the
Canadian Forces – an amazing number in a country of just 11 million people.
By the end of the Second World War, we had the fourth largest navy on earth.
Our air force was almost as formidable, and we provided the training grounds
for more than 130,000 Allied airmen. Canadian troops took part in every
major campaign against fascism. We drove them out of Sicily and Italy.
We drove them out of Normandy and the Scheldt, out of the Netherlands and
all the way back to Germany.
One of the Canadian heroes of the Second World War was one of my early
mentors in politics: the late, great General Stan Waters. He had
been a member of the legendary Devil’s Brigade – and he led the
victorious Allied troops into Rome. Later he became the top commander in
the Canadian Army, a successful business and community leader and the country’s
first elected senator. General Waters was an individual with an incredible
courage of conviction, boundless drive and determination and the deep sense
of humour of a man who believed he had cheated death more than once. He
believed in war, in the nobility of service in war, when the cause is just,
when the purpose clear, and only when there is no other way.
Our military history is filled with larger-than-life characters like
Talbot Papineau and Stan Waters. And their achievements have forged the
character of our country. Our veterans have come from every part of the
country, every walk of life, and every community that has found safe haven
in this great country.
Among the hundreds of thousands of our countrymen who served in Europe
from 1939 to 1945 were 7,000 Aboriginal Canadians. Like in the First
World War, Aboriginal Canadians enlisted in much greater numbers than their
proportion of the country's population. Native soldiers were daring fighters
who excelled at marksmanship and fieldcraft. One of the greatest
was the Manitoba Ojibway Tommy Prince. As a Special Force commando
and member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry,
Prince was decorated nine times for his service and valour in Europe, and
for his heroics during some of the toughest fighting in Korea.
Teskey, Papineau, Waters, Prince: The ordinary soldier, the commander,
the war hero; The small, the great, the might-have-been; Because of their
sacrifices and the sacrifices of tens of thousands of Canadians like them,
We are privileged to live in one the most prosperous, civilized and safest
countries in the world. They stood up for Canada.
How do we honour them? We remember them. We remember them. But we must
do more. We must follow their example. As the poem begs of us:
"Take up our quarrel with the foe;
to you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
we shall not sleep, though poppies grow
in Flanders fields."
And, indeed, generations of young Canadian men and women have been inspired
by our veterans. Their example inspired us throughout the Cold War era,
when we stood firm with our NATO allies against the Soviet forces – and
won. They inspired our peacekeepers – our blue helmets in the Middle East,
the Mediterranean, Africa, the Balkans and Asia, to put their lives on
the line to defend peace and security in the world. Often in places where
Canada had no direct strategic interest: where their motives were purely
humanitarian. But that’s the way it has always been. When the cause is
just, Canada answers the call.
And so it is today in Afghanistan. More than two score of our
troops have fallen since we joined the United Nations campaign to rescue
that country from tyranny, terrorism and the Taliban in the months after
9-11. This week we remember them, too. Our grief is new and it is acute.
"Short days ago," as McCrae wrote in 1915 of his comrades, these brave
young men and women "lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were
Each casualty hurts – hurts us deeply. But along with the pain comes
an immense pride in today’s generation of Canadian soldiers. Last month,
our Governor General announced that the military valour decorations would
be awarded to four members of the Canadian Forces. These four members of
the forces will be awarded the military valour decorations for the first
time since these honours were created in 1993. Their names are:
Sergeant Patrick Tower,
Sergeant Michael Denine,
Master Corporal Collin Fitzgerald, and
Private Jason Lamont.
Each one of them displayed exceptional valour and devotion to duty during
separate engagements with the enemy in the Kandahar region this year. As
this is my first opportunity to do so in public, I wish to congratulate
and thank these four, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians.
And I know I speak for all Canadians in expressing unequivocal support
and sincere gratitude to all our troops and their families. As they have
been asked, they are holding the torch high. They are keeping faith with
our fallen. And the brave Canadians who lie beneath the poppies in Flanders
fields can rest in peace.
And now ladies and gentlemen, I would like to beg your indulgence for
just one minute longer. Today, we are unveiling the Remembrance Week Public
Service Announcement, which will be broadcast on Canadian television channels
throughout the week -- a tribute to those who have served and are serving
So let us watch. And remember.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
- John McCrae