Canadians need to heed the eternal lessons of the Second World War, Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Thursday, as the city commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France that turned the tide of the conflict.
In an early morning ceremony at the cenotaph in front of Old City Hall attended by aging veterans, other dignitaries and members of the public, Tory honoured the 14,000 Canadians — including the “many brave Torontonians” — who stormed Juno Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.
“Their courage and their determination led to some successes in those early morning hours but that success came at a huge price,” said Tory, noting that 359 Canadian soldiers lost their lives on D-Day, including 50 from Toronto. “It would’ve been hell.”
At least 50 Toronto residents lost their lives on June 6, 75 years ago, as did 359 other Canadian soldiers from across our great country. Toronto's Queen's Own Rifles sustained the highest casualties of any Canadian unit on D-Day. pic.twitter.com/NHO8hdAQJo
— John Tory (@JohnTory) June 6, 2019
Other Canadians across the country were also marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day, with the veterans who are the last living link to the largest seaborne invasion in history as the venerated guests of honour.
Capt. Martin Maxwell. 95, of the Glider Pilot Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division, shared his story in Toronto about being among the first to land in Normandy the night before the invasion.
“My D-Day started on June 5. Our commanding officer … came in and said, ‘Boys, we’ve trained for this for a long time. You’re the first ones in, so I have to tell you some of you will not be back,’” said Maxwell.
In an interview, Maxwell urged Canadians to keep the lessons of the Second World War in their daily thoughts — especially given the dwindling number of living people who experienced it firsthand.
“When I look at the world and see mosques, synagogues, churches have been attacked and people murdered, I think back of what I saw…and they may say, ‘What the hell have you done with the tomorrows we gave you?’”
Maxwell urged new generations to take over the torch of freedom and hold it high. Freedom, he said, is precious.
“Once it is lost, it’s almost impossible to get back.”
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other world leaders gathered in Normandy, Canadians were turning out for wreath laying ceremonies, lectures and displays, with the main ceremony slated for Willow Park Armoury in Halifax.
Several veterans were expected to be introduced, with scheduled remarks by historian Don Julien about Mi’kmaq soldiers. Richard Tilley planned to speak about his father Harold Tilley, who is featured on the Veterans Affairs Canada D-Day poster.
Veterans expected to take part in the Halifax ceremony include Havelyn Chiasson, 98, who landed with the first wave of troops on Juno Beach as a 23-year-old with the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment.
Canada also contributed about 110 ships and 15 fighter and bomber squadrons to the D-Day assault, code-named Operation Overlord.
The ferocious fighting in Normandy would continue for another two months at a cost of more than 5,000 Canadian lives.
Canadian War Museum historian Tim Cook called the 75th anniversary especially significant because the number of surviving veterans is dwindling, with most now in their mid-90s or older.
“We’re on the razor’s edge, I think of lived memory passing into history,” said Cook. “That will change how we think about this war when we’ve lost our last eyewitnesses to it.”
He said estimates place the number of veterans who are still alive at about 30,000, from the 1.1 million who served.
“They were ordinary men and women who were pressed into service in extraordinary times and that is perhaps how we should see them as we move toward this period where we will soon lose them all,” Cook said.
Other planned official ceremonies include a wreath laying at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, in Lethbridge and Nordegg, Alta., and in Yellowknife.
In Joggins, N.S., a cenotaph re-dedication will honour 13 young men from the community whose names will be added to the memorial, and in Ontario, a candlelight ceremony will be held at dusk in Gore Park in Hamilton.
Commemorative D-Day ceremonies are also planned for Saturday in Winnipeg and Calgary.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press