D-Day al­liances still strong, lead­ers say

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Lee BERTHIAUME

PORTSMOUTH, United King­dom — The ter­ri­ble and tragic story of the Sec­ond World War played out in an elab­o­rate cer­e­mony in this city in south­ern Eng­land on Wed­nes­day, mere me­tres from where thou­sands of Cana­dian, Amer­i­can and Bri­tish sol­diers boarded a flotilla of ships ex­actly 75 years ear­lier, on the eve of D-Day.

The cer­e­mony, in which Canada and its role in help­ing free Europe from Nazi Ger­many fig­ured promi­nently, was at­tended by Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Queen El­iz­a­beth and other world lead­ers as well as a hand­ful of the vet­er­ans, most now in their 90s, who fought in that con­flict to free the world of tyranny.

Trudeau and the other lead­ers not only paid homage to those who fought and died de­feat­ing Nazi Ger­many, but also promised to work to­gether to en­sure the hor­rors of that global con­flict are never again re­peated – an es­pe­cially rel­e­vant mes­sage at a time of grow­ing global in­sta­bil­ity.

“Over the last 75 years, our na­tions have stood up for peace in Europe, democ­racy, tol­er­ance and the rule of law,” lead­ers from 16 coun­tries pledged in a joint dec­la­ra­tion af­ter the cer­e­mony.

“We re-com­mit today to those shared values be­cause they sup­port the sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity of our na­tions and our peo­ple. We will work to­gether as al­lies and friends to de­fend these free­doms when­ever they are threat­ened.”

Among the coun­tries rep­re­sented were bel­liger­ents on both sides of the Sec­ond World War, in­clud­ing France, Ger­many, the United States and U.K. One coun­try miss­ing was Rus­sia.

Un­der a hazy sky and with a brisk breeze blow­ing in from the har­bour, the cer­e­mony charted the course of the war in Europe: from Ger­many’s in­va­sion of Poland in Septem­ber 1939, which pulled in France, Bri­tain and Canada, among oth­ers, to the fate­ful de­ci­sion to launch the in­va­sion of Nor­mandy on June 6, 1944. Ac­tors and dig­ni­taries re­cited som­bre di­ary en­tries and let­ters writ­ten by those who fought – and in some cases died – in the war, while dancers and mu­si­cians re­called some of the mu­sic of the day be­fore turn­ing to mar­tial tunes.

At one point, Trudeau took the stage to re­count the story of Lt.-Col. Ce­cil Mer­ritt, who was awarded a Vic­to­ria Cross, the mil­i­tary’s high­est dec­o­ra­tion, for his role in sav­ing count­less fel­low Cana­dian sol­diers dur­ing the dis­as­trous raid on the French port of Dieppe in Au­gust 1942.

“Although twice wounded, Lt.-Col. Mer­ritt con­tin­ued to direct the unit’s op­er­a­tions with great vigour and de­ter­mi­na­tion,” Trudeau said, read­ing from a ci­ta­tion in the Lon­don Gazette from Oc­to­ber 1942.

“He then coolly gave or­ders for the de­par­ture and an­nounced his in­ten­tion to hold off and ‘get even with’ the en­emy. When last seen he was col­lect­ing Bren and Tommy guns and pre­par­ing a de­fen­sive po­si­tion which suc­cess­fully cov­ered the with­drawal from the beach.”

More than 900 Cana­di­ans died at Dieppe and nearly 2,000 more were cap­tured, in­clud­ing Mer­ritt. But as Wed­nes­day’s cer­e­mony noted, the lessons learned from that at­tack helped carry the Al­lies to vic­tory in Nor­mandy be­fore the lib­er­a­tion of Paris and, even­tu­ally, the fall of Ber­lin.

The Al­lied in­va­sion of Nor­mandy in­volved nearly 150,000 troops – in­clud­ing 14,000 Cana­dian sol­diers – who stormed ashore into Ger­man ma­chine gun fire. Be­fore the day ended, 359 Cana­di­ans had been killed and an­other 715 wounded or cap­tured. The bat­tle for Nor­mandy would con­tinue for an­other two months and cost more than 5,000 Cana­dian lives.

Wed­nes­day’s cer­e­mony also fea­tured ac­counts from U.S. and Bri­tish sol­diers as well as ad­dresses by Trump, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and the Queen.

“Seventy-five years ago, hun­dreds of thou­sands of young sol­diers, sailors and air­men left these shores in the cause of free­dom,” the Queen said. “The fate of the world de­pended on their suc­cess. Many of them would never re­turn, and the hero­ism, courage and sac­ri­fice of those who lost their lives will never be for­got­ten.”

Trump, whose ap­pear­ance at Wed­nes­day’s event capped an of­fi­cial state visit to the United King­dom, read a quote from one of his pre­de­ces­sors, Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt, who was pres­i­dent of the United States for most of the Sec­ond World War.

Re­tired ma­jor-gen­eral Richard Rohmer, who flew two sur­veil­lance mis­sions over the D-Day beaches as a young pi­lot on June 6, 1944, said it was im­por­tant that Canada be rep­re­sented dur­ing the cer­e­mony and for young Cana­di­ans to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of what hap­pened 75 years ago.

“From time to time they will run across is­sues that are worth fight­ing for in Canada, which I be­lieve is the finest coun­try in the world,” Rohmer said of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“I hope you will rec­og­nize the old peo­ple like my­self made some con­tri­bu­tion to what Canada is today... We’re quite a dif­fer­ent coun­try, but it’s a good one and well worth fight­ing for if we have to.”

That mes­sage was clearly top of mind for some lead­ers such as out­go­ing Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, who, in a meet­ing with Trudeau fol­low­ing the cer­e­mony, thanked Canada as an ally and friend dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and now.

“It has been hugely im­por­tant show­ing the strength of the al­liance, look­ing back to the past but also, as we’ve been dis­cussing, look­ing to the fu­ture,” May said.

World lead­ers will con­tinue the com­mem­o­ra­tions in Nor­mandy on Thurs­day, in­clud­ing at Juno Beach, the eight-kilo­me­tre stretch where the Cana­di­ans came ashore.

CP PHOTO

Cana­dian Lt.-Gen. Richard Rohmer talks with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau as they take part in the vet­er­ans re­cep­tion as part of the D-Day 75th Anniversar­y Bri­tish In­ter­na­tional Com­mem­o­ra­tive Event at South­sea Com­mon in Portsmouth, Eng­land on Wed­nes­day.

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