Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Speech on the Occasion of the Presentation of the
Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation to the
2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian
Light Infantry Battle Group
Winnipeg, Sunday, December 1, 2002
"Peace has her victories/No less renowned than war". A famous commander wrote this in the 17th century and it is the description of what you of the 2nd Battalion PPCLI Battle Group have done. The renown of the peace that you brought is the reason for which you are receiving the Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation today for the Medak Pocket Operation in the former Yugoslavia in September 1993.
This Commendation, created in early 2000, is only being presented for the second time. It is the means by which I, as your Commander-in-Chief, publicly recognize the performance of a military deed of "a rare high standard in extremely hazardous circumstances". A deed which brings great honour to Canada and benefits the reputation of the Canadian Forces.
It's been nearly ten years now since the earliest days of the brutal Balkan conflict, when Yugoslavia crumbled as a country. The vicious horrible slaughter, to which every side delivered themselves, gave the world that dreadful term – "ethnic cleansing".
At home in our safe, clean, beautiful country, we watched with horror as these events unfolded. And as you – our peacekeepers – attempted to bring order to a hideous situation. In those fifteen hours on September 15th, you represented the concerns and the credibility of the United Nations, putting yourselves in harm's way, exposing yourselves to deliberate, sustained machine gun fire from Croat forces. To which you rightfully and skilfully replied. Finally, a ceasefire was agreed, at the instigation of your commanding officer, Colonel Calvin, and a small group of soldiers of the PPCLI.
But, between the time of that negotiation and the withdrawal of Croat forces the next day, your Battalion watched helplessly as the Croats engaged in a last frenzy of "ethnic cleansing". The great historian Herodotus said: "This is the worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over nothing."
In a recent television documentary, I have seen some of your faces recounting ten years later the horrors of that day, the emotions you felt, the helplessness seething with intense anger and frustration. The toll this has taken on many of you personally, then and in the time since, the nightmares that must pursue even the most reconciled among you, the sacrifice of your peace of mind so that the line could be held – all things are being recognized today in this Commendation.
Canadians were incredible warriors in two world wars, at places like Vimy Ridge and Ortona, places etched in our collective memories. Now, with the success and honour gained in those wars, we are peacekeepers with the greatest tradition of peacekeeping in the world.
The problem is – and I think all Canadians are beginning to recognize this – that keeping peace is not simple. Keeping peace means that the peacekeeper not only stands up to the battle line: he is the battle line. The peacekeeper takes affronts from both sides. The operation at Medak Pocket demonstrates beyond any debate that today's peacekeeping can, and does, involve armed struggle. And you lived up to the task in the way that all who understand the difficulties, the compromises, the grey areas in this world, recognize. That you must solve conflict peaceably if you can, but forcibly if you must.
Defying intimidation and direct fire, you showed what it was to perform armed and determined peacekeeping. You helped to bring into focus what peacekeeping really involves. You know, all of you, that it was the only way to bring peace and to discharge the UN mission with which you had been tasked.
Yet the simple fact remains that very few of us as Canadians knew what you did in 1993. Your actions were nothing less than heroic, and yet your country didn't recognize it at the time. Now I hope that the Canadian people will celebrate you for what you did, for what you represent, for how you have contributed to the pride we have in being Canadians.
You have acted in a manner for which the Patricia's are best known: courage, coolness under fire, and the readiness to seize the occasion or the enemy ground ahead. It is part of your history. It is part of your tradition.
Yours is the last privately raised regiment in Canada, and your founder, Hamilton Gault, requested and was granted use of the name of Princess Patricia – the daughter of the Governor General of the time. The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was among the first Canadian troops to engage with the enemy in the Ypres Salient in early January 1915. You were among the first to land on the south coast of Sicily in July 1943. Among the first to be sent to Korea in mid-February 1951. And, in early 1993, you were sent to "Sector South", the brutal Krajina region, where, as part of a UN Protection Force, you were squeezed between the warring Croats and Serbs.
Joining your battalion for this mission were reservists from across Canada, who made up nearly forty-five percent of the Battle Group. This, to me, is testimony to the quality of our reservists, who today have also earned the honour of the Unit Commendation.
The PPCLI has a glorious history and it continues to this day. I, as your Commander-in-Chief, am as proud of you as Hamilton Gault was in 1945 when he said: "You have magnificently maintained the traditions of your Regiment on the battlefields of Sicily, Italy and Germany and have added proud laurels to your Colours." I would add to that list Yugoslavia.
All Canadians should know of your courage, your determination, your service. The words of the Roman poet, Virgil, describe best your gallant action: "These shall be your skills: to impose ordered ways upon a state of peace, to spare those who have submitted and to subdue the arrogant."
As Commander-in-Chief, I commend each member of the 2nd Battalion PPCLI and all those from other units who served in the Battle Group. Your actions are not forgotten. Your actions will not be forgotten. For the honour you have brought to us, we Canadians thank you.