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Veterans: 6 May 2019
Six years of sacrifice remembered at Battle of the Atlantic ceremony
“The longest, most gruelling and the most contested of the Second World War campaigns, the Battle of the Atlantic was a no-fail mission on which victory in Europe depended,” Rear Admiral Art McDonald, deputy commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, told hundreds gathered Sunday afternoon at the Sailors Memorial in Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park.
|A Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter hovers briefly off Point Pleasant Park in Halifax on Sunday afternoon with the HMCS Ville de Quebec in the background. The flypast was part of the Battle of the Atlantic commemoration ceremony. - Francis Campbell|
“So, we prevailed. We prevailed through the tenacity, grit and determination of our veterans, shipmates of yesteryear. Sailors, airmen and merchant mariners, too, who sank or shared in the destruction of 50 (German) U-boats while they escorted some 25,000 merchant ships during the war to deliver more than 165 million tonnes of life- and war-sustaining cargo to Europe.”
McDonald hailed the Canadian Merchant Navy, that became the fourth largest in the world. He saluted a Canadian navy that grew from six destroyers and 3,500 personnel in 1939 to 373 fighting ships and more than 100,000 sailors by the end of the war, becoming the third largest navy in the world.
“As is the case for today’s navy, these accomplishments were fuelled by an impressive shipbuilding effort that saw more than 500 merchant ships built in Canada, built in Canadian shipyards at the same time as they were turning out more than 200 destroyers, corvettes and frigates, more than 200 mine sweepers, more than 250 tugs and more than 3,000 landing craft.”
McDonald said a huge price had to be paid to ensure that failure wasn’t an option.
“As you expect from the no-fail mission, the cost was high. Our bell tolls again today for the 24 Canadian of 175 allied warships lost. Lost, too, were over 2,600 merchant ships, including 62 Canadian vessels. The terrifying human cost — more than 2,700 sailors and air personnel and more than 1,600 Canadian Merchant Navy losses.
“Today, we recall these facts and recognize the service of our veterans, their families and the sacrifice of the many shipmates who never returned home.”
Having spent more than four years in the war-torn waters of the North Atlantic and the South Pacific as member of the Canadian Merchant Navy, Earle S. Wagner, 95, knew several of those who didn’t return.
Earle Wagner, 95, who served in Canada’s Merchant Navy for four years during the Second World War, talks with media at the Battle of the Atlantic commemoration ceremony at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax on Sunday. -
“I have relatives who were lost at sea during the war, cousins,” said Wagner, who joined the merchant navy as an ordinary seaman at the age of 17.
“I think of all these people, the 45,000 lost in the Second World War and the 60,000 lost in the First World War. ... The ones who cause these wars, they should be the ones who are fighting, not the poor, little guy who is 17 or 18 years of age. All you have to do is go to the burying fields in Europe and see these kids.”
Wagner, who grew up in West LaHave in Lunenburg County, said in one day during the war he counted 14 ships sunk off the U.S. coast.
“There are a lot of sad memories, when you think of all those people who lost their lives,” Wagner said. “It’s the futility of war. I talk to the kids in schools and I tell them if you don’t remember anything else I’ve told you, just remember that war is hell. Even the kids in the primary grades remember that.”
Instrumental in having the Canadian Merchant Navy memorial erected on the Halifax waterfront, Wagner said he has attended Battle of the Atlantic commemorations for many years.
“At least to remember those people who are not here to remember themselves, who paid the supreme sacrifice,” he said. “I always think about that when I come to these events. It’s a very solemn ceremony, especially with that nice music in the background. It puts you in a mood of melancholy and of remembering the past.”
The Stadacona Band of the Royal Canadian Navy provided the music and military and political dignitaries laid wreaths by the memorial as a guard of sailors about 220 members strong looked on.
Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc bows in reverence after laying a wreath during the Battle of the Atlantic commemoration ceremony at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax on Sunday.
“Together, the enormous efforts of all the Canadians who served in the battle were crucial to Allied victory in the Second World War,” McDonald said.
The deputy commander said the tremendous Second World War effort is part of a 109-year history of the Canadian navy, which serves as a first responder in a range of missions worldwide that include humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and armed conflict.
“Today’s (navy) sailors remain hard at work alongside allies and partners around the globe, combating crises, be they man made or naturally occurring,” McDonald said. “In successfully conducting these operations at home and abroad, we are, it is important to recall today, inspired and motivated by the great traditions, experiences and achievements that fill our history, a history that you, our veterans here today, have written. Today, we salute the many incredible achievements of our prececessors, whose legacy we work to grow each day. Today is an occasion to honour the fallen, both veterans’ and their families’ service and sacrifice.
“Veterans, we thank you and we are honoured to have relieved you of the watch.”
Francis Campbell -The Chronicle Herald/Somnia/AA
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