Speaking Notes for the Honourable Keith Ashfield at the Hero Class Patrol Vessel Construction Update



November 9, 2011

Halifax Shipyard Limited
Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us.

For the majority of Canadians, November 11 - Canada's Remembrance Day - is a day to remember our brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and way of life.

On Remembrance Day every year, we gather in numbers great and small across our country - at cenotaphs and memorials, in auditoriums and in private homes - for a moment of silent tribute to our fallen heroes.

Today, November 9th, also marks a solemn anniversary and day of remembrance. It is on November 9th, 1917 - exactly 94 years ago - that a letter was prepared by the friends and platoon-mates of Private James Peter Robertson from the frontlines of Passchendaele to inform his family of his bravery and death in the line of duty.

The letter reads:

“We all lose in Pete, a good pal and a friend as he was very popular with both officers and men, in fact, he refused promotion to be with the boys as plain ‘Pete’ instead of being an N.C.O.”

The letter went on to say:

“He was a good solider and did his duty well…A better soldier and truer comrade never stepped into a Uniform.”

Private Robertson joined the 27th Battalion in 1915 and received the Victoria Cross for his remarkable valour during the final assault on Passchendaele – one of the most significant battles in World War I. Private Robertson is one of only 94 Canadians to have been honoured with the Victoria Cross.

On November 6th, 1917, Private Robertson led his platoon in an advance that resulted in the Canadians capturing the enemy’s machine gun, forcing them to retreat.

Private Robertson single-handedly charged towards the gun, killing four of the enemy gunners with his bayonet and then turned the gun on the enemy. His courage and determination was the inspiration that ultimately led his platoon to victory.

Carrying the enemy machine gun with him, Private Robertson led the charge to Passchendaele. Upon returning to their own lines, the platoon discovered that two of their snipers were severely wounded outside the trench. Without being asked, Private Robertson ventured into no man’s land to rescue both men. Despite placing himself in extreme danger under heavy fire, Private Robertson managed to carry one of the injured men to safety. Sadly, he was killed while trying to save the other wounded soldier.

He was only 34 years old.

Considered one of the "Passchendaele Nine," he is one of nine Canadians to be awarded the Victoria Cross as a result of their bravery in that bloody battle.

When the Victoria Cross was presented to Private Robertson’s mother, the Lieutenant Governor said: “This cross is only a small thing but it is engraved with the words: ‘For Valour,’ which means a great deal. Money can do much – with money titles can be bought, but money cannot buy the Victoria Cross. It must be won by valour and service.”

Today, I am humbled to unveil the first Canadian Coast Guard Hero Class patrol vessel. This vessel is named the CCGS Private Robertson V.C.

No tribute, no medal or speech could capture the heroism that this brave young soldier showed, nor can we ever put into words our gratitude to him and to his family for his ultimate sacrifice.

We have the privilege of sharing this tribute today with his grand nieces Mrs. Lynne Tebay and Mrs. Peggy Carlson and his great grand nephews Laurie Seitz and Tim Kassner, who are with us from Alberta and British Columbia. We are proud to name this vessel in your uncle’s memory.

We have called this class of vessel - 9 that are currently under construction - the Hero Class and will name each after true Canadian heroes who, in service to their country, bravely put their duty ahead of their own safety. This is one way we will keep their memory alive and ensure that future generations never forget about their sacrifice.

Like many members of the Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Forces, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Private Robertson risked his own safety and security to protect not only our country, but also our freedom and our way of life.

Canadian Coast Guard vessels are strong symbols of safety, security and sacrifice and naming these vessels after heroes like Private Robertson is a fitting commemoration.

I am proud to unveil this vessel today so that Private Robertson’s legacy - and the legacy of all of our fallen heros - will live on as the Coast Guard continues to serve and protect Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

The citation etched into Private James Peter Robertson's Victoria Cross medal reads: “For most conspicuous bravery and outstanding devotion to duty in attack.”

Let us keep the memory of his service alive and etch his sacrifice in our hearts this day, on November 11 and every day we live in freedom.

Lest we forget.