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Remembrance and the Canadian Battlefields Foundation

By Major-General Clive J. Addy, OMM, CD (retired)

In 2005 our government recognized the “Year of the Veteran.” As Smokie Smith, veteran of World War II, the last surviving Canadian VC winner, and a patron of this year’s celebrations passed away, it was doubly important for Canadians to pause on November 11th, to remember and pay respect to their war dead. This annual ritual, which takes place at countless memorials and cenotaphs across this vast land, gets more important each year as the numbers of actual participants in those greater world wide conflicts dwindle in number and join those who were lost in battle. With their inevitable disappearance, the story of their selfless volunteer service must not be lost.

Emphasis must be placed on teaching our younger generations just what took place during the wars of the 20th century in which Canadians participated. Lest we think that those difficult periods of our past have finally been concluded, we should look around at our service in Afghanistan, at failed states on various continents and the conflicts continuing all over the world where people still choose violence to resolve their real or perceived problems. These unfortunate days are not over, and we need to remind ourselves of the importance of remembering the past, so as to be better prepared for the future.

Many groups of veterans and other concerned citizens have been, and continue to be, active in the areas of education, commemoration, and remembrance. New initiatives surface regularly, such as our Canadian Battlefields Foundation. Originally the Canadian Battle for Normandy Foundation, it was created by a group of concerned veterans and citizens in 1992. Canada has been involved in many campaigns and theatres of war, in every part of the world. Why then choose Normandy as its anchor? First, the battle of Normandy was widely seen as the turning point in the long drawn out battle to finally defeat the scourge of Nazism in 1945. Also significant was the availability, at no cost, of a piece of land in Caen, Normandy, adjacent to a major French museum, Le Mémorial. This museum was erected by French authorities to commemorate the liberation of Normandy by the Allies. It also evoked other campaigns of World War II and the evolving peace following the conflict. Seizing this opportunity, Mr. Hamilton Southam, a veteran of World War II and a well-known Ottawa personality and philanthropist, assembled a small group of veterans, and our Foundation was born.

At the outset, the Canadian Battlefields Foundation gave itself two key mandates. The first was to commemorate the sacrifice of all Canadians who served their country in the cause of freedom and the second was to familiarize as wide an audience as possible with Canada’s contribution to Allied victory in two world wars. Those mandates have grown to incorporate remembrance. They are regularly reviewed to take into account Canada’s participation in wars subsequent to World War II , including more recent so-called “peace operations” as well as the evolving Canadian audience.

Commemoration

Since magnificent memorials already existed in France at Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel commemorating Canadian and Newfoundland participation in the Great War, the idea of a pan-Canadian memorial for World War II was quickly adopted. The Foundation, realized that it would be impossible to emulate Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel in grandeur. It decided upon a Memorial Garden designed by Canadian university architecture and landscape students. The Memorial Garden is thus a living memorial continuously renewing itself and growing. The students selected to design this Memorial Garden were deeply moved by seeing the war graves of Canadians their own age in nearby cemeteries. Thus, they presented the Foundation with several innovative and moving designs from which an evocative selection was made.

On the north side of the valley in which it lies, a fissured terrace symbolizes the descent into turmoil, war and danger. On the southern side, Canadian maple trees surround a black granite slab in a pool of running water on which have been inscribed Virgil’s words:

“Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo” (No day will ever erase you from the memory of time)

On the wall behind the grove and fountain on the southern side are the names of the 122 Norman communities liberated by Canadians. On the terrace in the north are four large steles inscribed with the names of all the Canadian units, Army, Navy and Air force and the Merchant Navy, that participated in the liberation of Normandy. Future commemorative plans include adding steles evoking Canadian involvement in other campaigns of World War II. Increasing the Canadian presence in our host French museum, Le Mémorial, is also of great importance.

The Memorial Garden was officially opened by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe). Additional commemorative initiatives included the unveiling of a plaque at the Place de l’Ancienne Boucherie in Caen recognizing the major Canadian role in liberating this strategic city. Each year the Foundation conducts commemorative ceremonies at the site of that plaque as well as in the Memorial Garden and at the Abbaye d’Ardenne. The Abbaye has particularly poignant meaning for Canadians. Its garden is the site of the assassination of 20 Canadian prisoners of war in June 1944 by German SS troops.

Educational programmes

In concert with these commemorative activities, the educational efforts of the Foundation took root. Books such as Normandy 1944 by Professor Jack Granatstein and Canadian Guides to Canadian Battlefields, covering the North-West Europe campaigns, by Professor Terry Copp, were commissioned. A video, produced in 1997 and hosted by well known TV personality Mike Duffy, portraying the Foundation’s activities, was followed in 1998 by another, In their Footsteps or Le pèlerinage. The latter documented a Foundation Student Tour for that year and was produced for Veterans Affairs Canada. While those books and videos form an important part of the Foundation’s educational activities, the annual Study Tour is by far the most important activity of the Foundation.

Each year, since 1995, twelve or more carefully selected Canadian University students have traveled to Europe for a three-week study tour under the direction of distinguished Canadian military historians. They have, when possible, been accompanied for parts of those tours by veterans of Canadian campaigns overseas. Most students have studied Normandy in great detail and have visited Dieppe and the sites of Great War battles on the Western Front. Some have also visited the Scheldt, the Rhineland and Italy. The naval and air aspects of these campaigns are also always studied, as are from time to time, deployment areas in the United Kingdom. The Study Tours vary from year to year but, most of the time, include Normandy in early June, where students participate in and add luster to commemorative activities associated with D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. These activities are sponsored by the Foundation, veterans’ groups and Veterans Affairs Canada.

The Foundation’s Study Tour program is very popular amongst Canadian university students and leads to numerous applications. More than 130 students from over 25 Canadian Universities and all provinces, have participated. The large majority of them have been involved in propagating the knowledge they gained during those tours, which constitutes the cornerstone of the Foundation’s educational program. This program is made possible by the generosity of individual Canadians who have, in large numbers, joined the ranks of our Foundation, and also by the generosity of other foundations and corporations which, through large donations, ensure that the Foundation can generate revenue needed to fund those activities indefinitely.

Remembrance

It is our ardent hope that, through our programs, remembrance of their sacrifice will outlive all of our war veterans themselves and remain part of our Canadian identity for generations to come.

We will focus on the battles of the 20th century and leave to coming generations the duty of remembering the next where, hopefully, the qualities of previous generations will only get better in the next and that the cost of conflict will be lesser.

The Canadian Battlefields Foundation is proud of its achievements and hopes to be able to continue its educational and commemorative work to ensure young Canadians today remember the sacrifices made by their elders, so they might live in freedom. It welcomes queries and general interest. In order to make itself better known, it publishes newsletters and invites all to visit our bilingual web site.

Major-General Clive Addy has been a member of the Foundation since 2003.