Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada in Normandy
Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada in Normandy, France
June 6, 2014
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today delivered the following remarks at a Bi-National Ceremony of Remembrance marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy in France:
“Your Royal Highness, Major-General Rohmer, and Veterans, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, students.
“Good afternoon and welcome to JunoBeach.
“It’s an honour for me to be here with you today, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and surrounded by Canadian youth and in the presence of our distinguished Veterans.
“The anniversary we are marking is nothing short of a turning point in history.
“We are commemorating a day whose successful end foreshadowed the ultimate conclusion of a long and bloody war, and the triumph of the values for which Canada stands.
“All the things, in fact, that our enemies despised and had extinguished from every part of the continent they had conquered.
“Few events in modern history have been as documented as what was experienced here that day by Canadians and their French, British and American Allies.
“To truly understand how great was the Canadian achievement was a lifetime ago, we should remember the obstacles our troops faced.
“Poor weather had rendered ineffective the elaborate, pre-invasion naval and air bombardment intended to subdue the Nazi defences.
“So, instead of landing amid smoking ruins and dazed defenders, the soldiers had no choice but to charge well-fortified guns and their fully alerted crews through the smoke, through the minefields, through the barbed wire, through the obstacles on the beaches, always under accurate and deafening mortar fire, and into the teeth of machine guns; the same kind of machine guns that had caused the slaughter of their father’s generation, during the First World War.
“Only having run this deadly gauntlet could the survivors destroy the enemy strong points, and even then, only through savage hand-to-hand combat against some of the toughest soldiers in the world.
“That is how they took this beach.
“And here are some of the men who took it.
“The losses were crushing.
“In the sky and on the beach, and on the ground where the First Canadian Parachutists Battalion had landed, over four hundred Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice – and the main landing had yet to come.
“I should note in passing that yesterday, this famous assault of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was successfully re-enacted.
“Now despite the fearful carnage, by the middle of the day the Royal Regina Rifles, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, The North Shore Regiment, Le Régiment de la Chaudière, the Queen’s Own Rifles, Canadian Scottish and other Canadian units, had punched through Hitler’s vaunted Atlantic Wall and secured their first objectives.
“Canadians were now to fight in Europe until Europe was free of fascism.
“And fight they did.
“Such was the nature of the Canadian Army, such was their intensely aggressive fighting spirit, that during the Battle of Normandy that followed D-Day, they would suffer, Canadians would suffer, the most casualties of any division in the wider British Army Group.
“To keep advancing while their comrades were falling left and right took remarkable courage.
“There are no words to describe such courage.
“Words fail me.
“As a Canadian, reflecting on this achievement I can feel, we can feel, only two emotions that are usually not reckoned together: fierce pride and the deepest humility.
“In this great achievement, the Canadian Army depended heavily on the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Navy.
“Every RCAF squadron based in Great Britain played a part in the invasion.
“Canadian fighter aircraft quickly took control of the airspace above the beachhead.
“And it was ships of the Royal Canadian Navy that carried and protected the assault force as it crossed the Channel.
“The Canadian ships then let loose a hail of bullets on the enemy defence lines to provide cover to the fourteen thousand Canadians who landed on JunoBeach that day.
“Who were these men?
“What kept them going?
“Why did they do what they did?
“They came from all walks of life, from every part of our great country.
“They were young, some still in their teens.
“And, as their British hosts found, they were boisterous and enthusiastic.
“But, they were united in a common cause.
“They wanted to see Europe free.
“They believed that people everywhere had the right to liberty, to live free of the crushing oppression of totalitarian regimes.
“And they believed this so deeply that, as the weeks went by, more than five thousand would die to make it so.
“The Veterans of D-Day are the embodiment of the values of our country.
“For we are a peaceful country.
“We have never been driven by any dream of conquest, nor any blind hatred.
“Then as now, Canadians understood why peacemakers are said to be blessed.
“But the men who landed here a lifetime ago also understood that a curse rests upon the person who, reluctant to fight for good, denies the very existence of evil.
“Peace has no merit if the cost is oppression.
“So they took up arms, these and a million other Canadians - men and women - who put on the uniform and beat their ploughshares into swords.
“It is the Canadian way to stand with like-minded allies for what is good, right and just.
“A month ago I had the privilege to welcome Canadians to Parliament Hill for aNational Day of Honour.
“This ceremony commemorated the end of our mission to aid the population of Afghanistan, a mission that had lasted thirteen years.
“Today, we stand where Canadians bled on D-Day.
“And later this summer, we will observe the centennial of the beginning of the First World War.
“Through these and other momentous events, from Vimy Ridge and JunoBeach, to Kapyong and Operation Medusa, there runs a red and white thread of constant resolve.
“When the world cries for help, Canadians answer the call.
“To our Veterans who are here today: Gentlemen, you have travelled a long way to be close once more to fallen comrades.
“What you did here will never be forgotten.
“And I know I speak for all Canadians when I say sincerely and heartfelt the only thing I can say for this and for the seventy years of peace that followed, ‘thank you.’
“To the young people here today, I say this: In not so many years, the duty of remembrance will belong to your generation, and yours alone.
“Do not forget.
“In that regard, the work done at CentreDufferinDistrictHigh School, many of whose students are here today, along with many others, is a model of its kind.
“Centre Dufferin has been active in fundraising for the Juno Beach Centre just behind me, and in personally researching the lives of Veterans.
“I congratulate the staff at Centre Dufferin for this tremendously valuable work.
“Ladies and gentlemen as General Rohmer mentioned, much has changed in our country, much has changed in the world since June 6, 1944.
“But you will find that courage is still courage.
“Honour is still honour.
“And the freedom, democracy and justice for which these Veterans fought are still Canada’s birthright.
“It is their legacy to you.
“Let us remember those who fell here.
“And may we live as bravely as they died.”