Last week I had the honour of laying a wreath on behalf of Canada in remembrance of our veterans at the cenotaph in Castlegar.
My childhood memories of these outdoor events are coloured by bone-chilling winds and early snowfalls, but last Friday a truly warm sun peeked out of the clouds. A large eagle flew overhead as the choir sang, adding to the atmosphere of an already moving ceremony.
We all have a personal connection to loss and sacrifice of our servicemen and servicewomen. On Remembrance Day I always think of my grandfather, Walter Cannings, who signed up for the army in Penticton 1915. He didn’t have to join — he was old for a new recruit at 35 — but he felt the patriotic call that was so strong at the time. He was sent to the army camp at Vernon for training, caught pneumonia in the cold winter tents, and died before he could be sent overseas.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the Somme, the tragic battle at the centre of the First World War, where a stalemate of mud-filled trenches, pointless charges over the top, and incomprehensible numbers of casualties defined the horrors of war for years to come. On the first morning of that battle, July 1, 1916, almost 20,000 British troops were killed. The 678 soldiers of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment played a part in that initial offensive. They were sent over the top of the trenches near the village of Beaumont Hamel at 9:15 a.m. and within 30 minutes all but 68 had been killed or wounded before they got near the enemy lines. To this day, Newfoundlanders celebrate July 1 as much as a solemn memory of Beaumont Hamel as a joyous party for Canada’s birthday.
We all notice the dwindling number of elderly Second World War veterans each Remembrance Day. But we must remember that there are many vets from recent conflicts in our communities, and we must give them our deep thanks and respect for their actions, risking their lives for freedom and justice around the world.
My colleagues in the NDP have introduced several private members bills and motions to improve the pensions, medical treatment and support systems that veterans need when they return to civilian life. I have discussed with Kent Hehr, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the need for a better system of treating PTSD in Canada, using best practices from other countries including Australia. The NDP Critic for Veterans Affairs, Irene Mathyssen, said recently “Currently, there are great ideas proposed by the Canadian Forces Ombudsman that would immediately ease the transition from military to civil life for many veterans and their families,” added Mathyssen. “The Prime Minister also must tell his government to stop fighting veterans in court. This is unacceptable. They were promised better. They deserve better.”
We must not forget our sacred obligation to the veterans who have served Canada, and we must ensure that all veterans and their families are treated with respect and dignity and that no veteran falls through the cracks.
Lest we forget.
Richard Cannings is the MP for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding. Connect with him at Richard.Cannings@parl.gc.ca.