Speech at Canadian War Cemetery Bergen op Zoom

Speech by the Prime Minister, Dr Jan Peter Balkenende, at the remembrance ceremony on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands, at the Canadian War Cemetery, Bergen op Zoom

Prime Minister Harper, Excellencies, honoured veterans, ladies and gentlemen,

He was seventeen years old. Private Stanley Colquhoun from Vancouver.He was seventeen when he fought in the Netherlands for freedom.Seventeen when he fought in the Battle of the Scheldt. And seventeen when he lost his life on Dutch soil in the cause of freedom. He was laid to rest here in Bergen op Zoom. This young Canadian made the supreme sacrifice. He gave his life. In the grimmest, fiercest and most savage battle fought by the Canadian army in the Second World War.

This is what one veteran said about conditions in 1944. 'We were always wet, always cold. The shelling never let up, the fighting just went on day after day. I thought it'd never end.' These words come from the book 'A terrible victory', the harrowing story of the Scheldt offensive. It was presented to me by the author Mark Zuehlke in Vancouver several months ago. At the presentation, I met two Canadian veterans who had been involved in the fighting and in the liberation of Zeeland. Their stories made a deep impression on me. I was born in 1956 in the same area where they had seen so much horror. I grew up there in safety, peace and security.

Today we remember how the Canadians and their allies struggled to bring peace and security to the Netherlands and the Dutch people. We are deeply grateful for the sacrifices they made. We admire their courage and their determination. And we are filled with respect for their sense of duty and responsibility.

Today we also remember the priceless gift they gave us: the gift of freedom. Sixty-five years ago, the Nazi occupiers were driven from our country. Sixty-five years ago despair and oppression made way for hope and promise. Sixty-five years ago the Netherlands was liberated.

Yesterday we celebrated our liberation with the war veterans. And, equally important, with thousands of Canadian students who are in the Netherlands this week to learn about the past. This week they will walk in the footsteps of their fellow Canadians. Canadians who were not much older than they are now when they fought a battle of life and death in 1944 and 1945. They will see where the frontline was, and where people lit bonfires to celebrate their liberation. They will hear about the courage of their fellow Canadians in the face of fear. They will feel the eternal gratitude of the Dutch people for the bravery of the Canadian solders.

It is essential that we pass on the torch of history to the next generation. That we continue to tell the story of war, and the story of peace. So that every day we feel in the very fibres of our being how precious our freedom is. How freedom cannot be taken for granted. And how freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility. The responsibility to cherish the gift of freedom and to pass it on. And the responsibility to remain alert to intolerance, to discrimination and to anything that threatens our freedom.

We owe it to him. To Stanley Colquhoun. And to the many thousands who fought for peace in the Netherlands. To those who fell, and those who survived. Our liberators. Our heroes. Forever.

Thank you.