Delivered at Minto Armoury, Winnipeg, on 11 November 2016
There was no reason for the guns to fall silent on this day in 1916. The Battle of the Somme was in its final phases, with the battle for Ancre Heights just ending and the battle for Ancre just beginning.
That fall, the First Canadian Division had worn the famous red patch for the first time, making a name for themselves as assault troops at Courcellette that they would carry through the Somme and sear forever into the memory of friends and foes alike with their assault on Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
Today it is easier to think about those ghostly figures, wreathed in gas, fog and smoke clambering out of the trenches on old video clips, because they are all gone. Their words and images, the rusted tools of trench warfare preserved in museum collections, speak to us in ways that we can shape and control. We remember them in the way that we want, without fear of contradiction.
It is harder to create the same mythology about the Second World War or Korea, because there are still some among us who were there.
Whether it is Cyprus, Golan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo, Libya, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, however — from Kapyong to Medak, to the Panjwaii and Kandahar – there is a long list of places where Canadians fought because they accepted the call to serve. Each one needs its own stories to be told in ways that give voice to those who were there, not merely carving their names and battle honours onto a monument to enshrine what the next generation wants to remember.
Today we remember those who died in battle, those whose lives were forever scarred by the horrors of war and have passed on, and we honour their sacrifice.
But memorials, like funerals, are never for the dead. They are for those who are left behind, for those who must rise to greet the dawn of a new morning, regardless of darkness in which it begins.
Most importantly, therefore, we are here together today to honour the living, to listen to their stories as they remember them, however difficult it is for them to tell us and however hard it is for us to hear what they have to say.