100th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele
Ottawa, Ontario, Monday, November 6, 2017
Each year, in early November, we stop for a moment and reflect on the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the line of duty.
Remembrance week offers us the opportunity to honour those who have served our country, and to thank our veterans past and present by proudly wearing the poppy as a symbol of our gratitude.
Today, we are gathered here at the Canadian War Museum to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Passchendaele.
One hundred years ago today, members of the Canadian Corps launched their third assault on Passchendaele Ridge. For three years, the German and Allied armies had been immobilized in the trenches on the Western Front. The fighting had turned the area into a muddy, ravaged plain, devoid of trees and vegetation, and riddled with shell craters.
The Canadian Corps succeeded in capturing the ridge and the ruins of the Passchendaele village nearby. A fourth assault, which secured the high ground east of the Ypres salient, was carried out on November 10th — the final day of the more than four-month battle.
Nine Victoria Crosses, the highest award for military valour, were awarded to Canadians soldiers.
Victory was only won at great cost. Of the 100 000 members of four divisions of the Canadian Corps, more than 4 000 were killed and another 12 000 wounded.
They all fought bravely through the mud and the horror of war.
These thousands of Canadian soldiers are among the 275 000 casualties in the British-led armies at Passchendaele. The Germans suffered another 220 000 killed or wounded.
A century later, we remember the Battle of Passchendaele as a symbol of the worst horrors of the First World War.
This week, we wear the poppy in our duty to remember, to honour the sacrifice and courage of those who have fallen in battle, and to never forget the horrors of war.
Poppies were first worn in the 1921 armistice anniversary ceremony. At first, real poppies were worn, because they bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders and because their brilliant red colour was a symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
I was a student in Wales in my teenage years when I first visited the Flanders battlefields of that region. I will never forget.
I have enormous admiration and profound respect for the women and men who serve their country in the Canadian Armed Forces. I am the descendant of a soldier, and I served in space alongside members of the military.
Many of my astronaut colleagues are of military background, and some even perished serving their country.
I know firsthand what sacrifice means.
Many of you will be travelling to Belgium tomorrow for five days of commemorative events to remember the Canadians who served there.
I thank you all for being here today, in particular the young people. You are keeping alive the memory and history of Canadians who valiantly served in the name of freedom.
Let’s honour the bravery and sacrifices of those Canadians who served at Passchendaele by working together for a more peaceful world.