PM delivers remarks during a special ceremony at the Holten Canadian War Cemetery, as part of the commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands

Holten, Netherlands
4 May 2015

Thank you very much

Thank you, Mark, and thank you also to our… welcome again to our hosts here, the Veterans Foundation.

Your Royal Highness, Ambassador, colleagues from the Parliament of Canada, General Lawson, General Rohmer, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, General Middendorp, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, students, and of course our distinguished veterans – because of whom we’re all gathered here today.

It’s an honour on behalf of the Government of Canada and indeed on behalf of all Canadians to be here with you in this beautiful and solemn place.  

It’s difficult for us to express all of the feelings such surroundings evoke, for this is sacred ground, a place of sorrow and grief, a place of triumph and pride, a place of suffering and of glory.

But express all these emotions we must, for in our effort to give them voice we give them form and we give them permanence.  

And those lost to us do not die but gain immortality as ever-lasting examples of how to live.

It has been 70 years since the Canadians buried here, and the veterans with us today, and tens of thousands of other heroes, soldiers, sailors and air personnel struck a great blow for humanity, liberating this country from the cruelty of Nazi oppression and hastening the end of the most deadly war the world has ever known.

Almost 1,400 Commonwealth soldiers, most of them Canadian, rest here in this place.  

Many of them had fought and survived into the war’s final days only to fall before they could hear those wonderful words that meant life itself: “cease fire, empty guns.”

They, more than 7,500 other Canadians and their allies, including the many heroes of the Dutch resistance, died to free this land from the evils of fascism and the horrors of genocide.

Let it be said of them that they fought the good fight and that they kept the faith.  

But only the veterans with us today can really know the fear and desperation they must have sometimes felt or the courage and resolve it took to press forward.  

But they did.

Over sodden terrain that gave easy passage to neither man nor machine, with body and spirit exhausted from month after month of marching and fighting since the landings in Normandy and the campaigns in Italy, through a land of mines and barbed wire and constant deadly machine gun fire from a vicious enemy with its back to the wall.  

And why?

Because they knew, they understood deeply that there are some things on this earth worth fighting for, worth dying for.  

It was true then, it remains true today.

Ladies and gentlemen, our National War Memorial in Ottawa emblazoned with dates that signify the dark years when so much Canadian blood was spilled is a soaring sculpture aptly called ‘The Response.’ 

Apt because when tyranny threatens the free, when cruelty torments the innocent, when desperation overwhelms the human spirit, we choose to respond.  

We choose the high road forward, not the easy way out.

We choose risk, not for reward but for righteousness.  

We choose to fight for freedom, we choose to defend the innocent, we choose to bring hope to the world.

This is what we have always done.  

This is sadly what we are still called upon to do today.  

And this is what we must always do.

The heroes who liberated the Netherlands, like the men and women who serve our country today, understood that when there arises a great evil – a threat to all the things that define our existence as a free and just people – such enemies must be confronted.  

Even if it means not just the risk of great sacrifice, but the expectation of such.

Great nations cannot look inward.  

They must look out into the world and stand up for what is right and good.  

The headstones here are a stark reminder that doing the right thing comes at great cost.  

But to do nothing comes at a yet more terrible price.

To the people of The Netherlands here today I say the fires of that war forged one of the world’s greatest friendships.

Canadians will always remember the Princess whose birth among us was cause for such celebration amid the bleakest of days.

Canadians will never forget the welcome our troops received in this country as the war ended.  

Canadians will never cease to marvel at how this starving and scarred land so quickly became the prosperous, progressive, and generous country we know today, a partner in so many things including in Iraq.

Our friendship is manifest in the number of Canadians who call this the land of their ancestors, many of whom make that claim, of course, because their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents first met in those joyful early days of liberation and peace.

And our friendship is visible every year at this time of the year as our capital, including our War Memorial, becomes awash with the colour of hundreds of thousands of tulips, the legacy of gifts from your Royal family, and a reminder that peace and friendship, like hope, spring eternal.

To the students here with us today, let me just say this.  

I know that when one is your age, it is easy to look at an older generation and to see simply people from another time.  

But I ask you to look at these veterans and to see instead people who were once young like you and who desire to enjoy all the good things the life of our country has to offer, and who wanted no part of the terrible things happening elsewhere in the world.

Today we look at these veterans and we see the heroes who gave us the great country we have today.  

How do you want future generations to look at you?  

Only you can provide that answer.

In the meantime, it’s up to us, those of us who follow, to make sure their story, their example does not fade from memory but instead illuminates our future. 

For our history is the light that guides us into that future and if we forget it, we walk in shadows.

To our veterans I say this.  

We understand that the reason our soldiers fought and died here all those years ago is that a great evil arose, built its fortress, and attacked its neighbours and no one acted to stop it until you did.

With your bravery here, your struggle and your sacrifice, you remind us of the eternal truth of the old saying: freedom is not free.  

It has been paid for with blood, sweat and tears.

Seventy years ago, you liberated the people of the Netherlands.  

For that, you have the affection and the gratitude of two great countries.

Lest we forget.