D-Day a 'source of enormous national pride': Harper

Faith Goldy, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:30 AM ET

NORMANDY, France — Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined world leaders and veterans in France on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy.

"It is an honour and a privilege to be in France today on D-Day with our veterans on the very beaches of Normandy where, 70 years ago, Canadian and Allied forces smashed through the German defences to help put an end to Nazi tyranny in Europe," Prime Minister Harper said during the day's wreath-laying ceremony.

The massive air attacks and amphibious landing of 150,000 troops opened a second European front, virtually guaranteeing an Allied victory in the Second World War. By the invasion's end, 77 days later, more than 1.5 million Allied soldiers had landed on the five D-Day beaches. About 10,000 would not return home.

"It is difficult to understand the courage it took to advance through minefields and barbed wire under fire from mortars and machine guns in order to punch through Hitler's Atlantic wall," Harper said, "And yet that is exactly what many Canadians did."

Canada's forces played a leading role in D-Day, contributing 14,000 soldiers — the highest number of all the allies when measured as a percentage of their population. At the centre of the British stretch, Gold and Sword beaches, was Canadian-controlled Juno beach. The assault on Juno was led by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, supported by tanks from the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and the British No. 48 Royal Marine Commando.

But Canada's fight for freedom came with a human cost: 1,063 Canadians were put out of action on the first day, 708 were wounded or missing, while 355 would not live to see the fruits of their fight.

"It is a source of enormous national pride that Canadians played such a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the D-Day landings, one of the greatest battles of the Second World War and a turning point in the world's history," Harper said.

A source of contention in today's events is the inclusion of Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the invitation of host French President Francois Hollande.

"We may have differences with Vadimir Putin but I have not forgotten and will never forget that the Russian people gave millions of lives (during the Second World War)," Hollande said when asked about the controversy. "I told Vladimir Putin he is a representative of the Russian people, he is welcome to the ceremonies."

Friday's ceremonies come on the heels of Putin's Thursday meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a dinner with the French President Hollande. Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama have both declined Putin's request to meet in France.


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