First, I would like to thank the membership of our fine Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones for the honour and the privilege to represent our Veterans from across Canada on this most extraordinary pilgrimage in Dieppe France.
I was more than honoured to be in the company of 4 distinguished Dieppe Raid Veterans who were part of this horrific battle on the beaches of Dieppe during World War 2. Dieppe Veterans, David Hart, Maurice Leblanc, Stan Edwards and Metis Vet Paul Delorme. The reason I distinguish Mr. Delorme as being Metis is simply because in past years no one has made reference to anyone of our indigenous warriors who were involved in any of the conflicts of Canada's past and only in recent years is that recognition beginning to surface. I certainly thank VAC for the inclusion of Indigenous ceremonies at this Commemoration.
Stan Edwards is 97. He landed on the beach with the Calgary tanks. 29 tanks, the new Churchill tanks were used on the raid. Stan and the other tanks could not reach their intended areas assigned due to a number of reasons. Stan says, "There was heavy German direct and indirect fire and this stopped the Engineers in their assigned mission which was to create gaps in the wire obstacles with Bangalore torpedoes. The intense fire with its accuracy was killing everything that moved on the beach. Some or most of our tanks were disabled due to tracks being dislocated from their treads. Some of our guys were killed when they went out to try and put the tracks back on. The rest of us stayed put and our commanders engaged targets as best we could to try and support those on the ground. In the end when we could not retreat from the beach we surrendered and I spent the next 3 years as a POW. While I was in the camp I got word that two of my brothers were killed, one at the Normandy landings near Caen and the other over in Italy. My biggest fear was I worried about my mom before I was liberated. She had lost 2 of her three sons and her husband had also died. When I got home like most of us I knew we had to work so I worked for a long time. I live in Calgary and I have a close friend who was in the same unit as me and was also a POW and we see each other a lot and sometimes we talk about the war. At least we came home."
After this visit to Dieppe and my personal talks with these 4 Veterans as well as meeting with the daughter of L Col Merritt, South Saskatchewan Regiment Commanding Officer and Victoria Cross winner I was impressed by the humble attitudes, their ability over the years to cope with and to work a healthy life upon return home to Canada.
I also recall one of the history stories where a German Major was on the beach and a Canadian soldier was standing in front of three of his soldiers as they ordered this Canadian to put his hands up. He had no weapon and he stood looking at the Major and his men. The Major spoke and told the soldiers not to shoot as the soldier turned about and faced the beach. For a few moments, the Canadian saluted and held the salute for a time and then dropped his arm. He turned to face his captors with tears streaming down his face and surrendered himself.
Another story during the 70th Commemoration when a Canadian woman was in the Dieppe cemetery she saw an older man in his 70's or 80's who was crying at one end of the grounds. She went over and asked him if he was alright. Through his tears he said, " I remember when these brave Canadians landed on the beaches, I was 10 and I stood on the hill as they were being massacred on the beaches by the Germans." "I was helpless and could not help, but I knew then that we had not been forgotten, but I could do nothing to help, I'm sorry."
All the stories certainly make you understand not only the cost of war to soldiers but as well the cost to humanity.
So, history has shown that Indigenous peoples from across Canada including First Nations, Metis and possibly Inuit have served this country well in times of war. Most government officials do not go back from before Confederation but rather only talk about the two World Wars, Korea, Peacekeeping and Afghanistan as the contributions made by our peoples. History has a different take on that with our peoples being the main reason why Canada is geographically the way it is because of the War of 1812. We have earned a prominent place in Canada's history and it appears that with this year's solemn inclusion of our culture we may very well be seeing that recognition coming. To witness our culture on display and to also be included in the main ceremonies to say the act of remembrance on Michif was more than an honour for me personally and to be with Veterans Percy Joe who at a second ceremony gave the act of remembrance in his First Nation language and also Veteran Brian Cyr from MNC will be a memory that will not dissipate anytime soon. I will have to say, in conclusion, that it appears that the present government is working hard in its efforts to have more inclusion of its indigenous community including veterans in all commemorative events. We need to make sure this does not lose its way regardless of who holds power in the wigwam on the hill.
Picture of Sgt Moogly Tetrault-Hamel, the Eagle Staff Carrier, Brian Cyr MNC Veteran, Percy Joe, AFN Veteran and President of AVA Robert Thibeau.
Picture of Brian Cyr, Robert Thibeau, VIP and Sgt Moogly Tetrault-Hamel, the Eagle Staff Carrier