"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A rare award to honour a remarkable man

Consul-General Fluery and Mr. Cumbers with colour guard.
It was with the greatest appreciation that I attended a remarkable ceremony this morning, during which Coquitlam's John (Doc) Cumbers received France's highest honour, the Knight of French National Order of the Legion of Honour. Presenting the medal was France's Consul General in Vancouver, Jean-Christophe Fleury (the text of whose stirring speech is reproduced in full, below).
The ceremony took place at the RCMP's Coquitlam Detachment headquarters next to Coquitlam City Hall in recognition of the fact that Mr. Cumbers is still active in the community as a volunteer at the RCMP's Ridgeway Avenue community office.
According to those in the know, the Legion of honour is the highest national order of Frances and illustrates the country's profound gratitude towards its recipients. "It is awarded in recognition of personal involvement in the liberation of France" during the Second World War.
Sergeant "Doc" Cumbers was a tail gunner with the Royal Canadian Air Force, and is described in historical archives as "a most resolute and gallant air gunner." (After the war, he served in the Canadian Navy, as well.)
The archives continue: "He has taken part in very many sorties and has played a worthy part in the successes obtained. On a recent occasion, when returning from an operaton against Villeneuve-St. Georges, his aircraft was attacked by a fighter. As the attacker closed in, Flight Sergeant Cumbers delivered a burst of fire which struck the enemy aircraft, setting it on fire. His coolness and determination were charactertice of tht which he has shown throughout his tour of operational duty."
Here is the text of Consul-General Fleury's speech:

The medal moment.
Dear President of the Legion,
Soon to be Honored Veteran, their family and friends, Distinguished guests:
It is a real pleasure for me to be given the opportunity to present an award to John CUMBERS today. 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and for this occasion, the French government has organized a series of events that have taken place in France.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and three provincial Premiers have travelled to Normandy and were officially received by our President, Fran├žois Hollande.
To celebrate this anniversary, the French government has decided to bestow awards upon some of the living Canadian veterans who participated in D-Day operations.
The Legion d’Honneur is the highest decoration that France can bestow and, as such, it is equivalent to the Order of Canada.
The law that brought the Legion of Honour and its governing organization into effect was passed in the Legislative Assembly on May 19th, 1802, during the reign of Napoleon. It rewards the outstanding merits of individuals from all walks of life, regardless of their respective social, economic, hereditary or even national backgrounds.
A number of prominent Canadians have been awarded the Legion of Honour, such as: Former Governor General Michaelle Jean, Prime Minister William McKenzie King, Rear Admiral Leonard Murray (Commander in Chief of Canadian Northwest Atlantic), former Premier Jean Charest.
There used to be 20 of them, and by the end of the year, there will be over 1,000.
To the best of our knowledge, there are more Canadian D-Day veterans still living in Canada, but what is happening now is part of a truly unprecedented two-year process. This process required a lot of human resources.
And it would not have been possible without the support of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs in Ottawa.
The French President signed all the decrees to have the Legion of Honour awarded to 1,000 D-Day veterans, some of whom are living in BC. The campaign is now closed as our human resources do not allow us to continue this very lengthy process.

Now that I have explained the procedure, let me say a few words about the meaning behind all of this.
The destiny of all of us is to leave this world. But there is no rule in this universe that says that a human being should be deprived of his or her freedom.
It’s good sometimes to come back to the basics so let me quote the very beginning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Whereas disregard for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, the United Nations proclaimed that (…)
Art1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
Many people in this world made the ultimate sacrifice to allow their friends and relatives to remain unchained.
This is the sacrifice that more than 45,000 Canadians made during the Second World War.
The D-Day was this very first step that enabled liberty, justice and human dignity to break through. Canadian soldiers were on the front line, and it is with extraordinary bravery and sacrifice that they landed on Normandy beaches that brought peace to the continent.

As a young man John, you left your family and home to cross the Atlantic and participate to the some of the fiercest battles in modern history, on a foreign soil, far away from your country, to help the people of Europe to free themselves from the terror and tyranny. Your accomplishments during the Second World War are a vibrant reminder of the profound and historic friendship that binds France and Canada. Our two countries owe each other their very existence as free nations and this indeed creates a special relationship.
The French people will never forget the act of bravery that accomplished Canadian soldiers during Normandy Landing to help restore our freedom.

Sadly, if I may say so, this fight for freedom is not over: I think you are aware that more than 200 innocent people were killed in France last November after 17 journalists, cartoonist and Jews have been killed in Paris before because of their belief and because they exercised their freedom of expression. Similar events then happened in Danemark and elsewhere in the world.

Your Premier Christy Clark wrote this to us:

“For centuries, France has been a beacon of light and example for the world, and remains one of our closest friends and allies. Tonight, all Canadians stand with them, both in grief for those who were killed, but also in resolve. Those who commit such acts of violence want to change us, and our shared values. They will fail. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and with security personnel who put their lives at risk to keep others safe. Vive la France.”

Once again, Canada is on the side of France, and once again, I owe you all my gratitude. Therefore, thank you Canada for being on the side of France against the Islamic State in Iraq. And if I may add: Thank you Canada for being on the side of the freedom in Ukraine.

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