Text of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech at D-Day ceremonies
Friday, Jun 06, 2014 12:15 pm
COURSEULLES-SUR-MER, France - Following is a text of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's English remarks delivered during D-Day commemorations in Normandy on Friday:
It is an honour for me to be with you here today, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, surrounded by Canadian youth and in the presence of our distinguished veterans.
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.
To truly understand how great 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 the beach.
Here are some of the men who took it.
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 Regiment de la Chaudiere, the Queen's Own Rifles 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 the most casualties of any division in the wider British Army Group.
As a Canadian, reflecting on this achievement I can only feel two emotions that are not usually 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.
And it was ships of the Royal Canadian Navy that carried and protected the assault force as it crossed the Channel.
Who were these men?
What kept them going?
Why did they do what they did?
They came from all walks of life, from all parts 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.
And they believed this so deeply that, as the weeks went by, more than 5,000 would die to make it so.
The veterans of D-Day embody the values of Canada.
For we are a peaceful country.
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.
So, they took up arms, these and a million other Canadians — men and women — who put on the uniform and beat their plowshares into swords.
It is the Canadian way, to stand with like-minded allies for what is good, right and just.
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 Juno Beach, to Kapyong and Operation Medusa, there runs a red and white thread of constant resolve.
To the veterans: Gentlemen, you have travelled a long way to be close once more to fallen comrades.
What you did here, will never be forgotten.
I know I speak for all Canadians when I say a sincere and heartfelt "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.
In that regard, the work done at Centre Dufferin District High School, many of whose students are here today, 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, 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.