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What Stephen Harper said at Vimy

Canadian Press

This is the text of the speech given by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the rededication Monday of the restored Vimy Memorial in France:

Your Majesty, Mr. Prime Minister of the Republic of France, distinguished guests, veterans, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for honouring us with your presence today.

We Canadians here today are a long way from home but there may be no place on Earth that makes us feel more Canadian, because we sense all around us the presence of our ancestors.

If we close our eyes we can see them, dressed in their olive khaki uniforms, rifles slung over their shoulders, the distinct wide-brimmed helmet perched on their heads.

They are emerging from their filthy trenches, trudging through the boot-sucking mud, passing the skeletons of trees and the shell holes of blood, surrounded by the horrible noises of war.

Overhead, the Canadian Red Ensign is fluttering through the smoke.

One hundred thousand brave Canadians fought here 90 years ago today. Three thousand five hundred and ninety-eight died.

Every nation has a creation story to tell.

The First World War and the battle of Vimy Ridge are central to the story of our country.

The names of all the great battles are well known to Canadians and Newfoundlanders, but we know the name of Vimy best of all, because it was here for the first time that our entire army fought together on the battlefield and the result was a spectacular victory, a stunning breakthrough that helped turn the war in the Allies' favour.

Often, the importance of historical events is only understood with the benefit of hindsight, but at Vimy everybody immediately realized the enormity of the achievement.

Brigadier-General Alexander Ross famously said that when he looked out across the battlefield he saw, and I quote, “Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade,” and that he felt he was witnessing the birth of a nation.

The year after the war ended the brilliant Canadian commander at Vimy, Sir Arthur Currie, put it another way in a speech at Toronto's Empire Club.

Canada was a nation of immigrants before 1914, he said. Now these men who have come back are your very own.

Nothing tells our story of the First World War as eloquently or as powerfully as this extraordinary monument. It reminds us of the enormity of their sacrifice and the enormity of our duty to follow their example and to love our country and defend its freedom for ever.

The veterans of Vimy passed their stories to their children, who passed it to theirs, who passed it to us, who are passing it to our children.

Thousands of them are with us today. And some of them will return here some day with their own children, and their grandchildren.

Because nothing tells our story of the First World War as eloquently or as powerfully as Walter Allward's extraordinary monument to the 11,285 Canadians who fell in France with no known resting place.

Allward said he was inspired by a dream. He saw thousands of Canadians fighting and dying in the vast battlefield. Then, through an avenue of giant poplars, a mighty army came marching to their rescue. They were the dead, Allward said. They rose in masses and entered to fight and aid the living: I have tried to show this in this monument to Canada's fallen, what we owed them, and will owe them forever.

It is sometimes said that the dead speak to the living. So at this special place at this special time on this special day, let us together listen to the final prayer of those whose sacrifice we are honouring. We may hear them say softly: I love my family, I love my comrades, I love my country and I will defend their freedom to the end.

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