Straight Talk
SIMON KENT - Remembering the Battle of the Atlantic

The 25 stones of the Battle of the Atlantic memorial at the HMCS Prevost are laid out on a hillside with plaques that provide explanations. This Sunday the public is invited to a Battle of the Atlantic parade and commemoration ceremony at 1pm.

Credits: MIKE HENSEN/The London Free Press/QMI AGENCY

SIMON KENT | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO – The single longest battle in Canadian military history will be commemorated Sunday.

Sailors young and old will join the public across the nation to pause and honour the Battle of the Atlantic, one of the defining conflicts of the Second World War.

In that simple act they'll respect the promise: "We will remember them."

There is a lot to remember.

The Battle of the Atlantic ran from 1939 until the war in Europe ended in 1945, with Winston Churchill first recognizing the conflict by name in February 1941.

It has been called the "longest, largest, and most complex" naval battle in history.

It involved thousands of ships in more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single-ship encounters, in a theatre covering thousands of square miles of often wild, open ocean.

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was in the thick of it and marking that fact, the Naval Memorial Park in Burlington, Ont. will once again be the scene of one of the ceremonies of remembrance.

Members of the RCNA will join the Burloak Veterans' Association and the HMCS Haida Association for their annual parade.

This year there will be added significance when the park's main thoroughfare will be officially renamed "Naval Veterans Promenade" in honour of all those who have sailed into harm's way for Canada.

Local RCN veteran Ron Kirk wouldn't have it any other way.

"We have been meeting here since 1995 specifically to make sure the Battle of the Atlantic and Canada's contribution is never forgotten," Kirk said.

"We started pretty small and once struggled to get more than two dozen people at best. That's why we used the HMCS Haida as a backdrop. Over the years this gathering has grown larger and larger until it gained a momentum all its own.

"I think all Canadians are now more aware of the sacrifices made by our people back then, the RCN sailors and merchant mariners. So many paid with their lives. It's the least we can do now to remember and offer thanks for their service."

Kirk believes the single biggest boost to the Burlington effort has come in the post 9/11 world.

He said Canadians have watched as soldiers, sailors and air force personnel have gone to conflicts as far apart as Afghanistan and Libya and been reminded of the sacrifices of earlier generations.

Kirk served in Korea aboard HMCS Iroquois on her second combat tour and knows what it is like to fight.

Although not all Canadians will do something similar, Kirk is sure they share his respect for lives given in the name of freedom.

"They [Canadians] have mourned the dead and thanked the returned for their service," Kirk said. "I think Canadians realize how many freedoms we owe to those people who answered the call when the free world was facing a very bleak future indeed.

"Everyone did their part but I think in many ways, the navy had the longest haul. They were in it from the first days."

Ron Kirk's pride in Canada's naval contribution is reflected in its history.

The friendly territory closest to Great Britain, Canada's east coast and Newfoundland (which had not yet joined confederation) were in the front line of the Battle of the Atlantic by virtue of sheer geography.

Canada's navy and merchant marine, augmented by mariners from Newfoundland, played leading parts in the battle throughout the war.

In the course of these operations the RCN sank, or shared in the destruction, of 31 enemy submarines.

Consequently the RCN lost 14 warships to U-boat attacks and another eight ships to collisions and other accidents in the North Atlantic at great human cost.

Most of the 2,000 members of the RCN who lost their lives died in combat in the Atlantic.

Proportionally, Canadian merchant seamen suffered much more heavily. They lost one in 10 killed among the 12,000 who served in Canadian and Allied merchant vessels, as many to direct hostile enemy action as to the brutal weather.

Sunday will honour each and every one.

Lest we forget.

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