Remarks by Prime Minister Trudeau at the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge
April 8, 2017
7,004 Canadians were wounded in the battle that began here 100 years ago today. 3,598 Canadians died. This, from a population in 1917 of just eight million. Think of it for a moment…the enormity of the price they paid.
These were, for the most part, young men in their late teens and early twenties. Not professional soldiers, but superbly trained after months of preparation. Yet for all that, they still required courage – to a degree that is hard to fathom. They weren’t impervious to fear, these men. They were human. Homesick, tired, footsore and cold. Yet still, they advanced. Through mud, under enemy fire. They advanced, fighting like lions, moving just behind a devastating Allied artillery barrage. And they did not stop. They did not stop until they had victory. There were strategic objectives. Vimy is high ground. It had been transformed into a fortress.
But if you read the accounts of the men who fought here, you’ll find they focused on other things. They wrote to loved ones. They thanked them for parcels and letters, they asked about brothers and sisters, and they wrote about their fellow soldiers – those who’d fallen, those still fighting. Typical Canadians, they talked about the weather. “The sun has been shining a couple of times this last week…” Reads a letter from William Henry Bell, dated April 7, 1917. “The sun is a kind of a stranger here. Say, that cake you sent sure was fine.” William Bell died at Vimy on April 10, 1917. He was 20 years old.
The burden they bore and the country they made…because this too is why we’re here, why we remember.
For in their ultimate sacrifice, these ordinary, yet extraordinary, men of the British Dominion fought for the first time as the people of one country. Francophone, Anglophone. New Canadians. Indigenous Peoples. Side by side, united here at Vimy in the four divisions of the Canadian Corps. It is by their sacrifice that Canada became an independent signatory to the Treaty of Versailles. In that sense, Canada was born here. The sculpture of Canada Bereft is an emblem of a nation’s grief. It’s an emblem of loving care and of the thousands of Canadian women who bravely answered the call, serving as nurses, or who provided critical support at home.
But this monument is also symbolic of Canada’s birth and our enduring commitment to peace. As I look over the faces gathered here – veterans, soldiers, caregivers – so many people. I can’t help but feel that a torch is being passed. One hundred years later, we must say this together and we must believe it: never again.
Friends and honoured guests, let us hold to the grace of William Henry Bell, to the grace of the ones who stood by their friends through unimaginable hardship, through death itself, and who, in that offering, stood by their country and made their country in its beginnings. They were Canadians, and they were valiant beyond measure. Honour them.