Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, Mr. Fields, on Saturday, June 6 Canadians from across our great country will gather to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Later today veterans and their families and grateful others will begin their pilgrimage to France to visit the graves of our fallen heroes and honour their sacrifice.
It is appropriate for the Canadian House of Commons to mark this historic occasion. In so doing, we again pledge ourselves and the country to honour the promise made in the act of remembrance. We will remember them.
Let us each in our own way learn of the great deeds and the sacrifices made by Canadians and Allied men and women, so-called average Canadians, performing extraordinary acts of courage and commitment.
There are few who would dispute that the events of June 6, 1944, were to be one of the most significant events of the 20th century. In marking its anniversary, we must not forget other military actions which equally cost Canadians and Allies dearly.
For personal reasons, I think particularly of the Italian campaign, which resulted in the liberation of Rome, 65 years ago tomorrow, June 4.
On June 5, the following message was transmitted on BBC radio.
The long sobs
Of the violins
Wound my heart
With a monotonous
Those cryptic words borrowed from the French literary giant Verlaine signalled by Churchill to the French underground and the allied forces that the D-Day invasion was about to begin.
The 6th of June is one of those pivotal dates, landmark dates, etched in the minds and memories of veterans and those who served and their families. It is also etched in stone on hundreds of cenotaphs across our country and on bleached dignified tombstones throughout Europe, for most of Europe had languished under the iron fist and the racist rule of Hitler. D-Day and the campaign that followed in Normandy would at a long last signal the beginning of the end of the enemy who was making its last desperate stand in the European theatre of war.
Sixty-five years ago—perhaps Mr. Fields was here—the prime minister made a statement to the members of this House in which he said the following:
At half-past three o'clock this morning the government received official word that the invasion of western Europe had begun. Word was also received that Canadian troops were among the allied forces who landed this morning on the northern coast of France. Canada will be proud to learn that our troops are being supported by units of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The great landing in western Europe is the opening up of what we hope and believe will be the decisive phase of the war against Germany. The fighting is certain to be heavy, bitter and costly.
Indeed, the toll was costly. The headstones of Beny-Sur-Mer and other Canadian cemeteries, the monuments to those who died at sea, the Books of Remembrance housed here in the House of Commons, in the Memorial Chamber of this building, are stark testimony to the heroism and sacrifices of our armies, airmen and women and navy. A great history was written that day.
Humanity entered into a great debt when a previous generation embarked on the D-Day mission. That debt is our duty to never forget the deeds of those who gave their all on Juno Beach.
In the days that followed June 6, the fighting continued to be bitter and costly. Units across the country were involved. From my home province, the North Nova Scotia Highlanders worked with Quebec's storied Sherbrooke Fusiliers and suffered severe losses over two days combatting the elite 12th SS Panzer Division.
Far too many young Canadians died that day on Juno Beach. In the 10 bloody weeks that followed, soldiers from the First Canadian Army—with vital support from the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy—battled a powerful enemy and suffered and inflicted heavy losses. Nearly one-third of the soldiers involved in the fighting never saw their beloved Canada again. On August 3, when the Normandy campaign ended, the enemy had suffered a crushing defeat, mainly thanks to the efforts of Canada's land, sea and air forces.
Those who survived the war returned home, raised families, got on with their lives and built a new Canada. Without effort, what they did on Juno Beach might fade with the passage of time. New generations may not know what happened on June 6, 1944. It is our responsibility to tell their story, our story, our history, our legacy.
I compliment our veterans who have been so generous in sharing their individual histories. It is difficult for some, impossible for others, and that is understandable. Yet their story, our story, must be told, and it is through the marking of these anniversaries that the next generation learns of its heritage.
I praise our heritage minister for the attention that he is giving to this important task.
Our Prime Minister will be in France to mark this anniversary. The Minister of Veterans Affairs is leaving today for France and will lead a delegation of Canadian veterans returning to Normandy. He will travel with them to the places where they fought and to other locations as well. They will gather in war cemeteries and in front of Canadian cenotaphs. They will pay tribute to those who gave their young lives for our freedom. I know that all Canadians will think of them that day.
Two young ambassadors will accompany the veterans and listen as they tell their stories. When they return, they will be able to talk about what they saw and heard. They will share the veterans' stories with others and keep the torch of remembrance burning for future generations.
As we pause to commemorate those Canadians of the Normandy campaign, I also want to bring attention to another deserving group: the men and women of today's Canadian Forces. The first Sunday in June has been declared Canadian Forces Day.
I would like to take a moment to recognize the sacrifice and accomplishments made here at home and around the world by our current men and women in uniform. They carry on the proud tradition of answering the call of their country to serve, to stand for our values and to defend freedom and democracy and human rights whenever that call comes.
I consider it a distinct honour to rise in this place, to be with members of Parliament in this storied chamber to pay respect to veterans. As the Minister of Veterans Affairs said yesterday in the other place in an eloquent and stirring address to senators as well as a large assembly of veterans who were there:
--of all Canadians, no one owes our Veterans more than Parliamentarians do. It is only because [our veterans] have served our country that we as Members of Parliament and Senators can serve--freely, in a truly democratic country.... And, when our world leaders gather in France later this week, they will recognize that. It has been said that great countries are those that produce great people. And no nation has produced finer men and women than Canada. Our troops have always been the best in the world.
Going overseas has been a way of helping us understand the great debt that we owe our country's truest heroes. That is why it is so important that we do go back to the shores of Normandy, as a Canadian delegation will this week, to see how other nations still remember what it was like to have their countries occupied by a foreign army. They pass down the memories from generation to generation as powerful reminders so that the peace and freedom within their borders will never be taken for granted.
I would like to share a story with colleagues of the House. The Minister of Veterans Affairs and I were in Afghanistan just 10 days ago and we met with the Dutch commander of Regional Command South in Kandahar province, General de Kruif. Upon meeting him and hearing that we were Canadian, he insisted on telling us a story. He explained that whenever he returned to Holland, to his family, after serving in Afghanistan, he would meet people who would ask him, “Why are Dutch soldiers serving in Afghanistan today?” He said, “I would always respond the same way, with a question: Why was Canada in Holland during the second world war?”
All these years later, the Dutch, the French, the Belgians, many throughout Europe and around the world whose nations were once occupied, have not forgotten. They know instinctively that when the world calls, Canada answers, as we have today, because this is the Canadian way. It is the way it has always been and always will be.
This is the heritage, the national identity we have inherited from the D-Day and Battle of Normandy veterans for a way of life they stood up to protect, but their service came at a terrible price, a price paid with many young lives cut short and so many comrades buried on distant lands.
Finally, I would like to close by saying it is impossible for any of us to say thank you enough to those who fought on June 6. What we can do is remember, and we do.