Tribute to Canadian veterans on anniversary of VE Day and Battle of the Atlantic

It is an honour to stand today and to remember the contributions of so many Canadian men and women to whom we owe such a great debt.

On May 8, we will once again mark the anniversary of VE day. Canadians defended British cities and the British coast from the Luftwaffe during the desperate defence of the Battle of Britain. Canadians broke the Hitler Line in central Italy, helping to break Nazi Germany in Italy. Canadians landed on Juno Beach as part of the liberation of France. Canadians fought valiantly to liberate Belgium and the Netherlands. And Canadians were critical to the victory in the Battle of the Atlantic, without which an isolated Britain could not have endured, nor a successful liberation of western Europe could have been launched.

Most of us in this Legislature were not alive during the Second World War, but most of our parents, our uncles and our aunts were. Through them, we retain a deep personal connection to the struggles and sacrifices of those times.

I, too, inherited a connection to those times, especially to the Battle of the Atlantic. My father was a chief petty officer stationed in St. John’s, Newfoundland. My uncle Stu was a gunner on the HMCS Woodstock. My uncle Bill was a chief stoker in the navy and survived two ships that were torpedoed and sunk in the Atlantic on convoy duty. All three saw most of their service in the Battle of the Atlantic. Almost like family, my uncle Alec served in the RCAF as a fighter pilot during the gruelling siege of Malta.

More than one million men and women served in Canada’s Armed Forces during the Second World War; that’s one in 10 Canadians. These quiet men and women seldom spoke of the times of bravery and courage they had to show, of the pain and sacrifice they had seen and endured. Few communities were spared the loss of a son or a daughter. Most lost several; some lost many.

We have several veterans of the Second World War here today with us, who have already been introduced twice. Thank you for your bravery and sacrifice. Canada will always be in your debt.

Speaker, each year on the first Sunday in May, Canadians commemorate those lost at sea in the longest single campaign of the Second World War. For six long years, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Merchant Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force were at the centre of the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest battle in Canadian military history.

From the beginning of the hostilities between the British Empire and Nazi Germany, the Atlantic supply routes between North America and the United Kingdom were under constant threat. By the summer of 1940, Germany had seized almost the entire western coast of Europe, from the northern tip of Norway to Biarritz on the French-Spanish border. They used their control of these harbours and airfields to try to strangle the supply lifelines to Britain.

Operating out of Halifax, Canadian Forces guarded the vital supply lines of troops, munitions, food and raw materials sailing across the Atlantic. Shipping travelled in convoys to provide protection from attack by air and sea, particularly the menace of the German U-boats.

At the beginning of the war, Canada was a minor naval power, with only 13 ships and 3,500 personnel. By the war’s end, Canada had the third-largest navy in the world, comprising 373 fighting ships and more than 110,000 servicemen and servicewomen.

The HMCS Haida, which sank more surface tonnage than any other Canadian warship, is the most famous ship of the battle for Canadians and is now docked in my hometown of Hamilton, at the waterfront, as a national historic site.

More than 25,000 merchant ship voyages crossed the Atlantic under the escort of the Canadian Forces, delivering 165 million tonnes of cargo.

Our success in the Battle of the Atlantic was indispensable to the Allied victory in World War II. The sacrifices were great, Speaker; the cost was heavy: 2,000 members of the Royal Canadian Navy were killed, the vast majority in the Battle of the Atlantic; 752 members of the Royal Canadian Air Force died in maritime operations; and nearly 1,600 Canadians and Newfoundlanders are commemorated in the book of remembrance for our merchant navy.

Those volunteers—our veterans—made great sacrifices for Canada and for our freedom, but it’s hard for any of us today to appreciate just how high the price of liberty was. More than 47,000 Canadian men and women never returned from the Second World War. Today, we remember each and every one of them—we remember those who never returned from Europe, Asia, Africa and the oceans, and we remember those who did return.

Time takes its toll on all of us, including our veterans, but those who stand with us, they stand proud. Those of us in this place have a special responsibility to honour all our veterans of all ages and to treat them with the dignity and the respect they deserve. Lest we forget.

(Hansard: May 4, 2017)