Mr. Speaker, hon. colleagues, I rise in the Chamber to speak about the first world war and the fate of some Canadian soldiers, a fate that has been essentially forgotten in the pages of history.
For the young nation of Canada, the promise and optimism that infused the dawning 20th century was abruptly cut short by the first world war. No one anticipated such carnage, or that we would soon be sending young citizens into a war that would see 65 million people from 30 nations take up arms, where 10 million people would lose their lives and 29 million more would be wounded, captured or missing.
Never before had there been such a war, neither in the number of lives taken, nor in the manner of their taking. New weapons would turn fields of battle into slaughter grounds, while the rigours of life in the trenches would kill many of those who escaped bullet or bayonet.
This “war to end all wars” challenged our small country of 8 million to its limits. Almost 650,000 served in the Canadian Forces in the Great War. Over 68,000—more than one in ten who fought—did not return. Total casualties amounted to more than one third of those who were in uniform. Thousands came home broken in body, mind, and spirit.
The service of Canadians in uniform was as remarkable as it was distinguished. History records their sacrifice in places whose names resonate even to the present day. Battle names such as Ypres, The Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and Amiens.
Those who lived then and the historians who followed would declare that Canada came of age because of its actions and ingenuity during World War I.
But where history speaks of national sacrifice and achievement, it is too often silent on the individual stories of triumph, tragedy and terror of those who fought and died on the terrible killing fields of France and Belgium.
Those who went to war at the request of their nation could not know the fate that lay in store for them. This was a war of such overwhelming sound, fury and unrelenting horror that few combatants could remain unaffected.
For the majority of the Canadians who took up arms and paid the ultimate sacrifice, we know little of their final moments, except that they died in defence of freedom.
Today I want to talk about 23 of our fallen. I would like to tell the House about these soldiers because these circumstances were quite extraordinary. These 23 soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force occupy an unusual position in our military history. They were lawfully executed for military offences such as desertion and, in one case, cowardice.
We can revisit the past but we cannot recreate it. We cannot relive those awful years of a nation at peril in total war, and the culture of that time is subsequently too distant for us to comprehend fully.
We can, however, do something in the present, in a solemn way, aware now, better than before, that people may lose control of their emotions, have a breakdown for reasons over which they have little control. For some it would have been known today perhaps as post-traumatic stress disorder.
To give these 23 soldiers a dignity that is their due and to provide a closure for their families, as the Minister of Veterans Affairs on behalf of the Government of Canada, I wish to express my deep sorrow at their loss of life, not because of what they did or did not do but because they too lie in foreign fields where poppies blow amid the crosses row on row.
While they came from different regions of Canada, they all volunteered to serve their country in its citizen-army, and that service and the hardships they endured prior to their offences will be recorded and unremembered no more.
Allow me to enter their names into the record of the House: Quartermaster Sergeant William Alexander, Bombadier Frederick Arnold, Private Fortunat Auger, Private Harold Carter, Private Gustave Comte, Private Arthur Dagesse, Private Leopold Délisle, Private Edward Fairburn, Private Stephen Fowles, Private John Higgins, Private Henry Kerr, Private Joseph La Lalancette, Private Come Laliberté, Private W. Norman Ling, Private Harold Lodge, Private Thomas Moles, Private Eugene Perry, Private Edward Reynolds, Private John Roberts, Private Dimitro Sinizki, Private Charles Welsh, Private James Wilson and Private Elsworth Young.
We remember those who have been largely forgotten. For over 80 years, they have laid side by side with their fallen comrades in the cemeteries of France and Belgium.
I am announcing today in the Chamber that the names of these 23 volunteers will be entered into The First World War Book of Remembrance along with those of their colleagues. Adding the names of these citizen soldiers to the pages of this sacred book, which lies in the Memorial Chamber not far from here, will be a fair and just testament to their service, their sacrifice and our gratitude forevermore.
Lest we forget.