His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston is Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.
Canadians have a keen appreciation of their history, and their worthy focus over the past few days has been the uncommon sacrifice and extraordinary adventure of ordinary Canadians over the course of the Normandy landings. More than one million men and women joined Canada’s forces to defeat Germany’s bid for continental domination between 1939 and 1945, with the military drawing into its ranks almost half of all male Canadian citizens who were fit to fight.
As commander-in-chief, I have enjoyed the humble honour of meeting the uniformed successors of those men and women in countless theatres of training and operation, and I have no doubt that those who went before them have every cause for gratitude and pride as they look down now to see their legacy at work.
As a student of history, I am struck also this week with the memory of how many Canadians during the war made the Normandy operation a success by how they served at home. The war effort on Canadian soil touched every village and hamlet, called upon the strength and conviction of our whole population and forever transformed the way we work together as communities, provinces and cultures within one great nation.
Our contribution to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan alone was world-changing. That program was the largest aviation training effort in history, producing fully half the pilots, gunners, flight engineers, bombers and radio operators for the Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and, of course, the Royal Canadian Air Force. Canada was the first and best location for training, given its relative proximity to England and, more importantly, its wide-open spaces and stable weather. More than 130,000 Allied pilots and air crew were trained in Canada, supported by a staff of 100,000 administrative personnel working in 8,000 buildings and hangars.
No one knew fully what to expect. No one knew for certain what each long day’s work would accomplish. Yet their conviction was unbeatable, forged as it was among a diverse community of peoples and generations and geographies and disciplines as varied as the land they lived in and as solid as the turf below them all. Like their comrades of decades ago hurling themselves through the surf toward the beaches of France, at home they, too, marched on – half-sure yet whole-hearted.
Within the year, they had proved the wisdom of their confidence. After the most complex national undertaking in our young history with more than a million citizens in uniform, with the third-largest navy and the fourth-largest air force in the world, our nation was at last told to stand down. The jubilation was immediate and ecstatic. The generation that had fought and survived those detestable years, in which 60 million humans had perished, set out on a path of peace and prosperity never before imagined.
The lesson is as relevant today as then. Whatever we face, we face together. And together, we are a nation of positive thinkers, at once realists and optimists, linked in a bond of confidence and gratitude, ready to protect what we have built so we can share it with those around us and those after us. In everything we do, we will be half-sure and whole-hearted. As our troops at Normandy proved, it’s the best way to be Canadian.