By Richard Lawrence
On the 9th of August, 1974, a Canadian Armed Forces “Buffalo” aircraft, while landing in Damascus, Syria, was shot down by a Syrian Air Defence missile killing all on board, including nine Canadian military on the United Nations Emergency Force in Egypt and Israel peacekeeping mission. This was the largest single loss of life for Canadian peacekeepers in history and it is this reason that the Sunday closest to the 9th of August was chosen for the annual National Peacekeepers Day Ceremony. The ceremony is organized by the Colonel John Gardham Ottawa Chapter of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping (CAVUNP) along with the RCMP, CFSU(O), the RCMP, and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). This year also commemorated the 70th anniversary of the start of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization, started in 1948,
The ceremony was held at the Reconciliation Monument in Ottawa on Sunday the 12th August, 2018, under the heat and clear blue skies of Ottawa. And it was warm with a heatwave in progress and no shade for the troops on parade. The Ceremonial Guard, dressed in their scarlets and bearskin hats, had just come from the Changing of the Guard ceremony on Parliament Hill so had already stood in the heat for a bit before being bussed to this ceremony to do it again. Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada (DM/VAC), Walt Natynczuk, the reviewing officer, even made mention of it during his remarks and hoped that the battery operated cooling vests were working underneath their uniforms.
The first speaker was Mr. Wayne Mac Culloch, National President of the CAVNP, who noted that, “Ceremonies commemorating Peacekeepers Day are about recognition and commemoration of peacekeepers past, present, and yet to come and their families. Recognition and thanks to those who help make peacekeeping duty less arduous and remembrance of our fallen comrades who died in the service of peace.”.
Following his remarks were the traditions of remembrance ceremonies with the last post, silence, rouse and lament then followed by the Act of Remembrance. The Commitment to Remember was spoken by air cadet Sgt. James Chettle in English and by army cadet Sgt. Claire Demers in French.
After the Prayer for the Peacekeepers, came the laying of flowers, which is different from most remembrance ceremonies because, instead of laying wreaths at the foot of the monument, bouquets of flowers are placed into the mouths cannon barrels, cut down and positioned for this purpose. This year the first flowers were placed by the Honourable Greg Fergus, MP Hull-Aylmer, and the DM/VAC Walt Natynczuk and the second set of flowers were placed by MGen. Alain Pelletier (Canadian Armed Forces) and RCMP Assistant Commissioner Paula Dionne. The third set was much more poignant in that they were placed by Mrs. Elizabeth Fournier-Law and her daughter Kathleen, who had lost their husband/father, Clive Law, suddenly last year. Clive had served as President of the John Gardham chapter of the CAVUNP and was also a driving force for the creation of a fourth figure to be placed on the Reconciliation Monument to represent police forces and first responders.
The Honourable Greg Fergus was first to address the parade where he noted that over 125,00 Canadians had participated in peacekeeping all over the world and included members from the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, Police forces, both municipal and provincial, diplomats and civilians, of which over 130 had lost their lives. When DM/VAC Natynczuk took the podium, he promised to follow advice that he received in Cypress many years ago when addressing a medal ceremony during a hot day there – “keep it short!”. He spoke of the professionalism and dedication of all those who undertook peacekeeping duties and that “ we mourn the losses of our shipmates, squadron mates, battle buddies, and colleagues in operations … both the physical injuries and the invisible mental injuries our men and women endured. … and we gotta support those who are hunkered down somewhere to come forward
and get help and get treatment.”. He also noted that the Canadian contribution makes a difference due to the education, professionalism, training, and discipline of the people and that they “… represent the very best of Canadian values and ethics”. With that, he closed and the parade carried on to its conclusion and dismissal.
No-one fainted on parade because of the heat so it was a good day all around, although some of the Ceremonial Guard made note that their knees were a little stiff as they’d been standing still for so long.
After the ceremony, there was much picture taking of UN Veterans and their families at the monument before adjourning across the street to the pub for after ceremony snacks and refreshments.
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