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  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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News

Hill 70 Memorial Dedication Ceremony

Loos-en-Gohelle, Saturday, April 8, 2017

 

As citizens of free and democratic societies, it is our duty to remember all those who served our countries in the First World War.

For too long, the Battle of Hill 70 and its significance have largely been forgotten.

Today, we help to change that.

Today, we dedicate another important memorial to Canadian soldiers of the First World War.

Let us start by remembering the situation in the summer of 1917, when the battle of Hill 70 took place.

1917 marked the lowest point of the war for Canada and for the Allied nations.

Russia was defeated and in revolution.

France was exhausted from fighting at Verdun.

Great Britain was being blockaded by U-boats.

The American contribution to the war effort was yet to be fully felt.

The prospect of defeat was real.

Enter the Canadian Corps, commanded for the first time by a Canadian: Lieutenant General Arthur Currie.

The Corps’ objective was to relieve pressure on Allied forces at Passchendaele and to seize this high point of land—Hill 70.

In this, the brave and capable Canadian soldiers succeeded.

Not only did they capture the high ground, they held their positions against more than 21 determined counterattacks over three terrible days of combat.

But the cost in human life and limb was very high: more than 9 000 Canadians were killed and wounded.

We must remember them.

The victory at Hill 70 was important for strategic and symbolic reasons. It marked a key point in Canada’s war effort, coming after Vimy Ridge and before the Allies’ final push. 

It came at a time in the war when success was needed. 

Great heroism was demonstrated during those 10 days at Hill 70 and Lens. Canadians were awarded six Victoria Crosses for bravery. These soldiers reflected the diversity of our young nation. They were:

Major Okill Massey Learmonth and Private Harry Brown, born in Canada;

Sergeant Major Robert Hanna and Private Michael James O’Rourke, born in Ireland;

Sergeant Frederick Hobson, born in England; and

Corporal Filip Konowal, born in Ukraine.

And while such bravery was marked with the Victoria Cross, the empire’s highest award for courage, thousands of other Canadians did their duty during the battle. They found the will to endure, survive, and struggle forward. They too are remembered.

This memorial is the result of the vision and dedication of a small team of volunteers.

For the last five years, they have given so much of themselves to create this memorial.

As patron of the Hill 70 project, I thank them deeply for their efforts.

To Colonel Hutchings and his team, my admiration and thanks for your vision, perseverance and devotion to Canada.

I also thank the people of France and the City of Loos-en-Gohelle, in particular, for recognizing Hill 70 and for providing the land on which this memorial is built.

Lastly, I thank the youth of Canada as represented by students of Napanee District Secondary School, who are charged with carrying forward the story of Hill 70 and of those soldiers who sacrificed so much.

Together, we shall remember them.