Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann made the following statement in the Legislature today to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge:
“On this day, 100 years ago, a great battle of triumph and tragedy was raging on Vimy Ridge.
“I am honoured today to rise in this democratically-elected Assembly and to be able speak freely about these brave men and women, about the survivors and their families, and pay tribute to the fallen.
“Indeed, this is one of the gifts these courageous warriors gave to all of us here – not just freedom from oppression and tyranny, but the freedom to exercise our rights of self-determination and recognition of our inalienable human rights
“The price they paid was high. So many of them were killed that an entire generation was lost. Vimy Ridge remains the single bloodiest battle Canadians have ever fought, with about 3,600 lives being laid down on the fields of France.
“It was a defining moment both in terms of the Great War as well as the birthing of this great nation, Canada.
“It fills us with patriotic pride to remember the victory that was wrought on Vimy Ridge, but it also reminds us of the preciousness of life, the duty of public service, and the eternal vigilance required to protect our rights and freedoms, and the rule of law.
“Finally, I would be amiss if I did not speak about the unspeakable horror of war and the need for each of us, always and everywhere, to work to create the conditions for peace.
“The average age of Canadian soldiers in WWI was 26. The oldest was 80 and the youngest reportedly just 10 years old.
“What they were to experience in those foreign fields was unimaginable for their young minds. While many lives were lost on Vimy Ridge, many more were forever changed.
“Those who did not die had been surrounded by death and terror on a daily basis. Unrelenting physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma was their lot.
“When they returned home, they were enthusiastically welcomed by a truly grateful nation, but how could anyone who had not experienced such devastation begin to understand the effect it would have on the survivors and their families?
“This was a time when study of mental health, and particularly the lasting effects of trauma, was in its infancy. To be a ‘man’ often meant – and still means – maintaining a bravado of strength, refusing to ask for help, and suffering in silence.
“Many, if not all, of those returning from the battle field agonized under the torment of post-traumatic illness. Too often, this led to mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, and family violence.
“Although the guns had gone quiet, there was still a war raging in their minds, reverberating through their family members, and a different kind of peace that remained to be won.
“Our understanding of this disorder has come a long way since then, but there are hills we have yet to climb together. More needs to be done to support our brave service men, women, and families who face the devastation of war.
“We need to end the stigma, and make it clear that admitting mental illness does not make us weak. In fact, it takes incredible strength. And, bravery comes in many forms.
“And above all else, let us earnestly work in this House and in our communities to preserve the peace through respectful discourse, reducing inequality and justice for all; remembering the peace that was purchased at such a high price.”