Mr. Speaker, by the time the roar of the machine-guns had died away, this war was known as the war to end all wars. We rise in the House today to commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
Previously, the French and British had tried in vain to conquer what was called the ridge of death. But where the French and British failed, Canadians and Quebeckers succeeded. Between April 9 and 12, 1917, they mounted the ridge and conquered it in the face of 20,000 German soldiers, who pounded them with fire throughout the three long days of battle. It was a great honour to have succeeded in such an exploit.
Many did not survive, though, despite their courage. Of the 30,000 Canadians and Quebeckers who ascended that ridge of death, 7,000 were killed, or nearly 25% of the total. It was an enormous sacrifice. Sadly, these 7,000 soldiers did not live to taste victory.
These Canadians and Quebeckers were among 619,000 of their fellow citizens who fought in the first world war. Of these 619,000 Canadians and Quebeckers, 66,000 never returned to this side of the Atlantic.
It was the veterans who called it the war to end all wars. This was a heartfelt call to the ensuing generations, warning them against the folly of war, which brings only death and destruction. It is a cry we should never forget—never again.
The war traumatized all those who took part. They thought it would be a snap and it would be over in a few days. But the war bogged down and the armies faced each other in a new kind of war, called trench warfare or a continuous front.
It was an absolutely horrible experience. Thousands of men went to the front to end up in a trench a few metres away from an enemy trench. Historians say they did not fight very much but died a lot. Men who emerged from their trenches were killed on the spot. Their living conditions were worse than dreadful.
The soldiers in the trenches were called tommies, doughboys, poilus or G.I.s. Their lives consisted of hunger, fear, thirst, rats, mud and worst of all, a terrible new weapon that had just been invented, gas, which killed many thousands. That is what their daily lives consisted of and they could remain there for weeks under appallingly unhygienic conditions.
Never again barbed wire under the feet instead of grass. Never again families in tears, torn apart forever by the loss of a loved one to bombs, machine-guns or bayonets. Warfare was quite barbarous at the time.
Our soldiers may have fought with courage and valour and have been on the side of the victorious allies, but the first world war was nonetheless a great human tragedy. We have a duty to remember those who gave their lives so that we can live in peace and enjoy freedom.
Freedom does not always come easy, and at that moment in time, people had to fight to achieve freedom. That is what these individuals did, and it would be terribly ungrateful of us to forget that.
That is why we are pleased to see this appeal being made to the House today. I, too, urge all my colleagues to go and sign the Book of Reflection.
After the horrors of the 1914-18 war, a moral imperative emerged, which seeded in many the desire to achieve peace through means other than war. Countries got together to create the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations.
Out of these four nightmarish years of war came a breakthrough. Now we try to the bitter end to avoid war through diplomacy, talks and agreements. That was not possible before. Indeed, it is a positive outcome of that war.
Another outcome was the end of empires. Empires had to go so that legitimate democracies could be created. The attention of nations was called to these issues and, as a result, we at least have these forums now to discuss amongst ourselves.
So, we say, may the people forever have the freedom to decide their future, may nation-states forever be free, sovereign and independent.
Finally, my gratitude goes to those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could enjoy such freedom and democracy today.
I will conclude the way I always do, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”