I too want to encourage people across Ontario to get involved in
Remembrance Day ceremonies, to take the time to acquaint themselves with what has gone before us.
Many people don’t know that over a million and a half Canadians sacrificed themselves in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War, and that 117,000 of those did not return. We need to remember.
This past summer, the member for Nickel Belt and I had the experience of a lifetime when we were able to go to Normandy and Dieppe and Vimy Ridge. This summer, being the 60th anniversary of D-Day, I can tell you that there were probably more Canadian flags flying in Normandy than in all of Canada. It was nice to see that so many people who live in northern France remember and recognize.
But there are some really disturbing things to see. I had never been to a war cemetery before. To go to the Canadian war cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer and see Canadian soldiers and sailors and people who served in the air force, not hundreds but thousands of gravestones, and to walk down some of those lines of graves and look at the ages of people when they were killed, to go down a whole row of 20 crosses and see age 18, age 18, age 18—it struck me after I had passed three like that, that here were three young men who, if you look at their combined years, it’s just a little bit longer than the 52 years I’ve had the privilege to live.
They were young men who weren’t drafted into the military. They weren’t told, “You have to go.” They went as volunteers. When you read some of the history, they’re very plain about why they went. It was not the search for glory—the glorification you sometimes see on television. They were people who simply felt it was a job they had to do. I wish that every Canadian could see the cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer or the cemetery at Falaise.
We also had a chance to go to Vimy Ridge. Vimy Ridge is a very haunting place. It’s haunting because as you approach the memorial, there are signs everywhere saying, “Do not walk in the field,” because there are still tons of unexploded ammunition.
In fact, we learned that French farmers who still plow their fields near Vimy Ridge have their tractors armour-plated because when they go over something with their plow they never know when it might explode. They still have mustard gas and chlorine gas cylinders go off and result in injury to people.
I wish every Canadian could visit Vimy Ridge, though, to see the incredible sacrifice that was made; to see that in 1916, the French attempted to take back Vimy Ridge and over 50,000 French soldiers were killed. In 1916, the
British attempted it—similar numbers.
You go to a graveyard and see 3,000 or 4,000 Canadians. You go half a mile down the road and see 50,000 gravestones of German soldiers; a little further, 25,000, of French soldiers. In a world where sometimes Hollywood
wants to glorify war, I think people need to have a sense of what these people faced and dealt with.
This year, there will be a special commemoration of the war in Italy. The Canadians who were dismissed as the D-Day dodgers because they spent their time fighting up the Italian peninsula and missed D-Day, which all the movies like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan are all about—you don’t see a movie about the Italian campaign.
We think of Farley Mowat as having written Lost in the Barrens, Never Cry Wolf, The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float. But Farley Mowat was there. His book is called And No Birds Sang, and it’s appropriate, because in the final pages
he talks about having watched his two best friends die and he says:
“The blanket that screened the shattered cellar door was thrust aside and a party of stretcher-bearers pushed in amongst us. Al Park lay on one of the stretchers. He was alive, though barely so . . . with a bullet in his head.
As I looked down at his faded, empty face under its crown of crimson bandages, I began to weep . . . I wonder now . . . were my tears for my friends,
Alex and Al and all the others who had gone and who were yet to go? Or was I weeping for myself . . . and those who would remain?”
We need to remember that war is not an answer for anything. Farley Mowat came back from the war a confirmed pacifist.
I urge all Ontarians to take the time on November 11 to remember the sacrifice that has been made. It is a sacrifice that we all owe so much to.