News Canada

'A people of peace' stands on guard for its fallen Remembrance Day

By David Akin, Postmedia Network

OTTAWA - Tens of thousands of grateful Canadians gathered Tuesday at the National War Memorial for the most poignant of national Remembrance Day ceremonies.

It was not even four weeks ago that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that is at the base of the 75-year-old memorial, was murdered by a terrorist. Both Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, who died in a terror attack in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., two days before Cirillo, were targeted for one reason only: they were wearing the uniform hundreds of thousands before them have been proud to wear.

In a powerful prayer given during Tuesday's ceremony from almost the spot where Cirillo fell, Brig.-Gen. John Fletcher, the chaplain general for the Canadian Forces, connected their sacrifice to the 170,000 other Canadians who gave their lives in defence of their country.

"We gather here today," Fletcher said, "with our emotions still raw from the shocking attacks so recently witnessed in Saint-Jean and in our nation's capital, from the violence that transformed this national memorial to military sacrifice into a place of military sacrifice, a place where an unknown soldier and a soldier now known to us all lay side by side in death having accepted to bravely stand on guard for our nation and for its values, rights, and freedoms."

Gov. Gen. David Johnston, in one of his finest speeches, spoke movingly about the values that generations of Canadian men and women have fought for on battlefields from Hong Kong to South Africa to Belgium.

"We are people of peace. Of respect and tolerance, kindness and honour. These qualities are alive in our national conscience precisely because we hold them as precious," Johnston said.

"We have the luxury to do so because those we remember today believed those qualities to be precious enough to die for."

Johnston's speech was part of a special ceremony within a ceremony to re-dedicate the war memorial, first dedicated by King George VI in 1939 and re-dedicated once before in 1982.

In 1982, the numerals "1939-1945" were added in bronze on the east side of the monument's base and "1950-1953" were added to the west side, commemorating the Second World War and the Korean War respectively.

The latest re-dedication adds more numerals in bronze: "2001-2014" on the west side — the long combat mission Canada undertook in Afghanistan — and, on the east side, "1899-1902", the first war for the young Dominion, fought against the Boers in South Africa.

Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II's only daughter, was at the ceremony and read a message from her mother: "Today it is fitting that, with this ceremony of re-dedication, we pay tribute to all those Canadians who in the intervening years have laid down their lives in the service of peace, justice and freedom."

In his speech, Johnston pointed out the two figures that designer and sculptor Vernon March had placed at the top of the memorial: March's representations of Peace and Freedom.

"Their arms are linked. They cannot be separated," Johnston said. "Because freedom without peace is agony, and peace without freedom is slavery, and we will tolerate neither. This is the truth we owe our dead."

Then Johnston, speaking from a podium placed next to the memorial, took his gaze from the memorial's pinnacle to its base.

"And now look down, to the resting place of a Canadian boy who died at Vimy Ridge. We don't know his name. He is our unknown soldier. In anonymity he honours all Canadians who died and may yet die for their country.

"We will stand on guard for him and for them, as did Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent, who take their place among them."


Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions


Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »