A Day to Remember
I served in the Canadian Armed Forces for almost 35 years. Over that time I travelled the world, moved my family 17 times and witnessed many significant events at home and abroad.
I attended the Royal Military College where the motto “Truth, Duty, Valour” continues to resonate with me in all my endeavours. I was a career combat arms officer, joining the Royal Canadian Artillery one of the three combat arms (Artillery, Infantry, Armour). During my career I held command positions at several levels – Battery Commander, Regimental Commanding Officer, Recruiting Zone Commander, Commander Combat Training Centre, Central Area Commander as well as many senior positions in various headquarters. I loved leading and training soldiers for combat as I knew they would be tested around the world in operations. I am proud of my service to Canada and the accomplishments of our military. We are regarded as one of the best trained armies in the world and we always are one of the first be asked to join forces with our allies to help with operations whether they be combat, peacekeeping or humanitarian.
I have spoken at many Remembrance Day ceremonies but a memorable one was speaking at a large Jewish Synagogue in Ottawa representing the Chief of the Defence Staff. A member of the congregation was a war hero with the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was a humble man but very proud of his service and participation of the Canadian Jewish community in the armed forces.
As we remember fallen comrades on November 11, I think of how our soldiers, sailors and airmen helped to build our nation. A couple of quotes that have stayed with me and always rise up at Remembrance Day are :
“A soldier renews his faith with every dawn” -Winston Churchill
“In times of war and nevermore
God and the soldier all men adore
In times of peace and all is righted
God is forgiven and the soldier slighted" -Rudyard Kipling
"Blessed be the Peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God" (Matthew 5:9)
Canada has a quality of life that is one of the best in the world. But how did we get here? How did our nation gain the respect of virtually every country around the world in times of need, conflict and disasters? How did we become a world power?
Well over 100,000 Canadians have died, and hundreds of thousands more have been injured in conflicts, in foreign soil, in an effort to preserve our way of life.
How does that make you feel about Remembrance Day? Our time on earth is precious so let people you care about know it – in particular those who have served their country and are still with us today.
I can’t possibly cover all the battles and conflicts we have been engaged in but perhaps identify a few significant operations that identified who we are as a nation.
Vimy Ridge – 1917 – 98 years ago - British and French had tried in vain. On April 9, 20,000 Canadians attacked through snow and sleet. Victory came at a cost of 11,000 killed or wounded. 4 Canadian divisions uniting Canadians from coast to coast served side by side. France ceded one square kilometer to Canada. The Vimy Memorial was dedicated in 1936. You can see the original plaster models in the Canadian War Museum and on the new $20 bills.
Passchendaele – Fall 1917. Autumn rains came early to Flanders fields. Trenches filled with water, it was a sea of muddy clay. Canadians took over from the British and proved their valour but with almost 16,000 casualties.
Dieppe – WW2 – 1942 – 5,000 Canadians came ashore but the German defences were too strong – more than 900 killed and almost 2000 captured – some hard lessons were learned.
Ortona – Italy – Dec 1943 – strategic port on the east coast needed for a supply line. Canadian 1st Division faced battle the hardened German 1st parachute division. There was much house to house fighting. Eight days of fighting and 1,375 Canadians killed, 964 wounded, and the enemy retreated
Netherlands – Canadians played a key role in the liberation of the Netherlands n 1944. In 1945 the people of the Netherlands sent 100,000 handpicked tulip bulbs as a postwar gift. They made a lifelong bequest and every year Ottawa receives 10,000 bulbs from the Dutch royal family. You can see the Tulip Festival every spring.
Korea – UN Peacekeeping operation - 1950 – “police action”. 26,000 saw action - 516 killed and 1,000 wounded
Afghanistan – Over 30,000 Canadians have served there and 158 soldiers died there. They represent a new generation of veterans.
So back to nation building - nations are a PEOPLE with defined language, history, and culture. Our identity is not only internal but is defined by how we interact with the world. Wars and conflicts play a major role. WW1, where 424,000 went overseas, was considered as a coming of age for Canada. In WW2 over 1 million joined the Canadian Forces. By the end of WW2, Canada took its place as a world power and a military peer as a member of NATO. We have participated in virtually every UN Peacekeeping operation. We have provided humanitarian assistance around the world – Earthquake relief, famine, hurricane relief, Tsunami relief, rebuilding projects – schools, orphanages, homes, infrastructure, and in Canada – Floods, Ice Storm, Fires, and helping the homeless.
Nation building can be illustrated by the first section of the Canadian Military Ethos
“We believe in Canada as a strong and free nation, and accept that the ultimate reason for the existence of the Canadian Forces is the preservation of secure justice and peace for Canada. “
The last section of the ethos is, “We accept these responsibilities in memory of those comrades who died in the service of their country and must ensure that their memory and ideals are not forgotten”.
Our military and in turn our society embraces a code of ethics such as the moral virtues of prudence, justice, patriotism, obedience, veracity and patience.
The Reason to Remember
On Remembrance Day, we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they fought hard to achieve. We recognize the tradition of freedom these men and women fought to preserve. They believed that their actions in the present would make a significant difference for the future, but it is up to us to ensure that their dream of peace is realized.
I would like to conclude with a Regimental prayer that sums up for me what this day is all about
“Almighty God, we humbly implore thy blessing on the Regiment and all of us who serve therein. Help us to prove worthy to accept the high ideals and traditions of those who have gone before us; to face our responsibilities in the future, in both peace and war, with courage, justice, love, honesty, and faithfulness. Remove all greed, hatred, selfishness, and envy from our thoughts that we may render true service to the Regiment and for Thee our God; for our fellow man; and “For Country”.