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STATEMENT - Commemoration of Canada’s Role in the First World War

 

Hon. Serge Joyal: Honourable Senators, August 15 marked the centennial of the Battle of Hill 70 near the city of Lens, France, in which the Canadian Forces were engaged from August 15 to 20, 1917, during the First World War.

I believe it is important to draw your attention to this event because it was the first time in the history of Canada’s army that our country’s troops were solely under Canadian command and managed to capture a strategic position that the Germans had occupied in this mining area of northern France since the beginning of the war.

I think it is important to draw your attention to the commemoration that took place in August of the victory of the Canadian troops on August 20, 1917, when they were for the first time solely under Canadian command in the town of Lens, a stronghold at the time of German forces.

Let us remember what happened in 1917 on the Western Front in France, where Canadian troops had been fighting for over two years. At the beginning of April of that year, the four divisions of the Canadian Army united to participate in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which took place from April 9 to 12 under the command of British Lieutenant-General Julian Byng.

Two months later, in June 1917, Major-General Arthur Currie, an impressive Canadian soldier, was promoted to lieutenant-general as the head of the Canadian troops. Three Canadian Army divisions were then grouped together under the exclusive Canadian command of Arthur Currie. They launched an attack against the German forces which had transformed the town of Lens into an impressive fortress.

Currie was astute. Instead of attacking the town directly, he planned to take a strategic hill close by named Hill 70 because it was at the height of 70 metres above sea level, and from there pounded the enemy.

The battle lasted five days in August and proved to be a costly victory; 5,700 Canadian soldiers fell victim to enemy fire, mustard gas and flame-throwers.

Regrettably, this chapter of the First World War was thereafter largely forgotten, but fortunately it did not fade away entirely. Some years ago a group of Canadians believed it essential to commemorate the sacrifice and victory so important for the recognition of the birth of a Canadian Army under Canadian command.

They undertook a project to erect a monument commemorating this landmark victory. They collected $8 million from over 200 contributors, all private donors, and commissioned a monument in the form of a towering 14-metre high obelisk. The town of Loos-en-Gohelle donated the land, and the monument was erected last year by the Governor General.

I shared the privilege of having supported the project and of being at the ceremony with Retired Colonel Mark Hutchings, the person who spearheaded the initiative with Robert Baxter, and was in the company of several descendants of the soldiers who gave their lives at the Battle of Hill 70 over 100 years ago.

This is an historic moment for our country — one worthy of commemoration.

So that we will never forget.