Every year, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians pause for two minutes of silence in remembrance of the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace. We remember those who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. Today, we honour them.
Remembrance Day was first held throughout the Commonwealth of British nations, including Canada, in 1919. It marks the armistice, or signing of the peace treaty between the Allies and Germany to end the First World War, which came into effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11th, a year earlier in 1918.
Two minutes before the armistice went into effect, at 10:58 a.m. on Nov. 11th, 1918, a soldier named George Lawrence Price was felled by a bullet. Price would become the last Allied soldier — and the last of more than 66,000 Canadians — to be killed in the First World War.
They died fighting in places such as Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele and Ypres — battles remembered for atrocious conditions and Canadian valour. In Ypres, Canadian soldiers were exposed to German gas attacks, yet continued to fight, showing amazing tenacity and courage in the face of danger. It was also during this battle at Ypres that Canadian Lt.-Col. John McCrae was inspired to write the poem In Flanders Fields on sighting the poppies growing beside a grave of a close friend who had died in battle.
The poem was a great inspiration in adopting the poppy as the Flower of Remembrance in Canada, France, the U.S, Britain and Commonwealth countries.
The first poppies were distributed in Canada in 1921. And today, we wear poppies to honour and commemorate all those who have gave their lives for our country
In many ways, the identity of a young country was forged on those bloody, muddy battlefields.
A total of 619,636 Canadians had served during the war, beginning in 1914. With a population of a little more than 8 million people back then, that meant approx. 1 in 12 Canadians alive at that time served their country – an extraordinary number to be sure. Today, we honour them.
WWI was also known as The Great War or The War to End All Wars. Twenty-one years later, though, Adolph Hitler’s aggression and tyranny led to WWII from 1939 to 1945, 67 years ago. Canadians fought in places such as Dieppe, Normandy, the North Atlantic, Hong Kong, during the liberation of Italy, and in many other important air, sea and land campaigns.
Canadian troops played a crucial role — and made a mighty sacrifice — in the 1944 D-Day invasion and the Battle of Normandy, a major turning point in the war’s Atlantic campaign. More than 5,000 were killed in the land invasion in France alone.
In total, more than one million men and women from Canada and Newfoundland served in the army, air force and navy. Almost 1 in every 10 Canadians alive at that time served their country. More than 47,000 did not come home.
What did their sacrifice mean? Well, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill famously said, Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
In Canada, we owe all those men and women who volunteered, yes volunteered, to go to war. They didn’t have to go; but they went anyway to fight alongside countrymen, friends and allies. Today, we honour them.
From 1950 to 1953, over 26,000 Canadians fought in the Korean War. And since then, Canadians have taken part in dozens of United Nations peacekeeping missions around the globe, from Cyprus and Haiti to Bosnia and Somalia, and now Afghanistan.
In all, more than 1,500,000 Canadians have served our country, and more than 116,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace. Today, we honour them.
Why must we remember?
To quote from author Heather Robertson, “We must remember. If we do not, the sacrifice of those one hundred thousand Canadian lives will be meaningless. They died for us, for their homes and families and friends, for a collection of traditions they cherished and a future they believed in; they died for Canada. The meaning of their sacrifice rests with our collective national consciousness; our future is their monument.
For many of us, war is something we see on TV or the Internet, or read about in the news.
We often take for granted our Canadian values and institutions, our freedom to participate in cultural and political events, our right to live under a government of our choice, our right to vote, our right to live where we want to live, our freedom to choose our profession, our freedom to be friends with those of our choosing, and to love and be with the person of our choice.
The Canadians who went off to war in distant lands went in the belief that these values and freedoms were being threatened. They truly believed, as King George of England once said, “Without freedom there can be no ensuring peace and without peace no enduring freedom.”
By remembering their service and their sacrifice, 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 our future, but it is up to us to ensure that their dream of peace is realized.
If there is one message I would like to leave you with, as the future leaders of tomorrow, it is to remember that freedom is not free. It can come at great sacrifice and cost. It is why we wear poppies, attend ceremonies, and visit memorials. It is why, for two minutes each year, we remember that we must always work for peace every day of the year, lest we forget their sacrifice.
We will never forget – not then, now or forever.