Former Premier John Hamm paid tribute to the 116,000 Canadians who gave their lives in two world wars at the Remembrance Day ceremony in Sunny Brae Saturday.
The death toll includes dozens of soldiers from East River Valley, whose names are inscribed on the Cenotaph at Sunny Brae and whose sacrifice is still honoured today by their surviving family members in the region.
“When Canada needed them, Pictonians have shown up in great numbers and have served always with great valour. Pictonians fought and died at Vimy Ridge, at Passchendaele, in the Battle of the Atlantic, in Sicily, Juno Beach, Holland, Hill 355, Kandahar,” said Hamm.
He praised the indomitable, can-do attitude of Canadian veterans, pointing to an army sergeant who lost his legs to an IED blast in Afghanistan.
His message was “you can lie down and let the world happen, or you can get up and do something yourself.”
“Today, we live in a Canada rich with opportunities and possibilities, because of the spirit of those who have served us. All those who have fallen are very much in our minds today,” said Hamm. “Theirs is a true life lesson in citizenship, sacrifice and selflessness.”
Had Canadians not stepped up to fight tyranny in Europe, the horrors of invasion and occupation may well have befallen Nova Scotia, Hamm warned.
He spoke of a Dutch neighbour who lived through the Nazi occupation of Holland as a child.
It was a time when basic rights and freedoms were snuffed out, secret police stalked the streets and Dutch Jews were deported to the death camps and murdered in their thousands.
By 1945, Hamm’s future neighbour and his family were starving, like many other Dutch people after five years of German occupation.
Their nightmare finally came to an end when Canadian soldiers liberated their hometown and handed out much-needed food to local civilians.
“Forty-nine Pictonians are buried in Holland, having given their lives in the liberation. For many Dutch in 1945, the first sign of liberation was a Canadian uniform in a town or village street. And the Dutch have not forgotten,” said Hamm.
However, Hamm also gave a message of hope, citing former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s 1960 address to Parliament.
“I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think is right and free to choose those who will govern my country,” said Hamm, quoting the former PM.
After the ceremony Hamm, retired Colonel for the 1st Battalion Nova Scotia Highlanders (North), together with the Hon. James J. Grant, retired Brigadier General; Lloyd Tattrie of the Pictou County Roots Society and designer John Ashton unveiled an interpretive panel.
The panel charts the East River Valley’s military history from 1776, when the 84th Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment was granted land after fighting for Britain during the American Revolution.
Through the late 18th and into the 19th Centuries men from the valley defended Atlantic Canada from hostile French, American and Irish Fenian forces.
In the last 100 years, men and women from the East River Valley served in the First and Second World Wars, as well as United Nations peacekeeping missions.
One local war veteran was Ronald “Ellsworth” MacDonald, who passed away in 1993, five decades after fighting in the Second World War.
His son Blake MacDonald laid a wreath in Ellsworth’s honour.
“He didn't talk too much about it,” said MacDonald. “He didn't tell us nothing really about it, but Mum used to say he had a hard time.”
Three new names were added to the Cenotaph. These were Lieut. Edna Christena Margaret Hattie, Pte. Bert MacIntosh Hattie and F/O Robert Gerard Hattie.