Today, June 6th, is the 67th anniversary of the greatest seaborne invasion in history as Canada took part in the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. Canada’s role on this D-Day: to take one of the five designated beaches where Allied forces were to land. The Americans had Utah and Omaha beaches in the west, then came the British at Gold beach, the Canadians landed at Juno Beach and finally the British arrived at Sword beach all across a stretch of about 80 kilometres of mostly flat, sandy beach along the Normandy coast in France.
The bombardment of the beaches began at 6 a.m. Two hours later, the German defences at Juno Beach had been shattered and Canada had established the beachhead.
The victory was a turning point in World War II and led to the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Fourteen thousand young Canadians stormed Juno Beach on his day. The fighting they endured was fierce and frightening and the price they paid was high, costing 340 Canadian lives, wounding 574 more.
Unfortunately I did not learn about this in school, neither did my wife. Instead we learned the best life lesson about D-day in a rather unique way. We travelled to Normandy as part of our honeymoon.
For those of you who are new readers of my blog, my wife and I took 5 weeks honeymoon, flew into Paris, France then rented a car and drove up to Normandy, then around the entire country, ending in Paris for the last 3 days. It was a wonderful trip, looking back at what we saw and where we went. We stayed in a lot of bed and breakfasts all over the country and enjoyed the countryside and the locals. Outside of Paris, life in France was wonderful. Sunflowers, lavender, wheat, mushrooms, and a very small car called a Twingo (which we named Twinga).
Yes, there were some hiccups like getting extremely sick the last 3 days in Paris, both of us spending each and every second in the hotel hoping to feel better, and my exploits with a manual car. I realized you can’t push a car over 100km/hr in 3rd gear. Who knew? It was also on this trip that I introduced my wife to camembert with fresh tomatoes on a baguette, something we still enjoy – on this past weekend for example. Top this off with marinated mushrooms and it’s something you cannot beat for flavour.
So what does this have to do with D-day.
Well, as I mentioned our first stop was Normandy to the north-west of Paris. It was sunny on the drive up there, however, as we settled into the region, it quickly clouded over and started to drizzle. It was fitting weather as we experienced a piece of history that neither of us understood at that time.
The beach and water leading up to the beach in Normandy is filled with markers and monuments reflecting the points where the allied forces landed in their attempt to remove the Nazi’s from France and put an end to World War II. It’s an eerie site. Then very close to the beach is a giant cemetery. Row after row of crosses indicating where a Canadian, American or British soldier died. There was, to the best of my knowledge, a Canadian cemetery and in that cemetery there were some grave markers with Stars of David on them reflecting where a Jewish soldier died. As is custom, we picked up some stones and placed them on those headstones. I believe that is done to show others that someone came to visit these people, and if I remember correctly there were more than 30, but less than 50 Jewish Canadian soldiers who died at Juno beach.
As we were putting the final stones on the graves we noticed another couple wandering around the cemetery. The rest of this story is a little sketchy because I do not exactly remember what happened from here – and I checked with my wife, but I remember chatting with them and finding out they were locals who upon finding out we were Canadian thanked us very much for saving their country. That I was able to verify with my wife. It was 10 years ago, or 57 years after the invasion.
I remember being choked up standing in the cold rain in the middle of a cemetery, with Canadian soldiers who died so far away from home and who are laid to rest in a foreign country. They died freeing the French from Nazi rule. We can to see Normandy, we saw the beaches where the allied forced landed and we saw the carnage that remains. We also saw the soldiers who perished and some locals who were happy to see us. It was quite surreal.
After that we decided to read up on D-day and to learn a little bit about Canadian history that far too often gets ignored. Sure it seems that our military is still using equipment from 67 years ago, but not enough attention and respect are paid to our armed forces who risked their lives to assist others – both here in Canada and abroad. It’s a thankless task. Imagine if there was a socialist government in Canada at that time? France would be part of Germany.
So with that, I wish to take a second this D-day to encourage each and every one of you to google either “Normandy”, “D-Day”, “Juno Beach”, “Canada in WWII” or anything relating to Canada’s presence in France and be proud to be Canadian (if you are), or proud of the fact that the Americans, Brits and Canucks came to help out.
It is with great sadness that I mark this anniversary of D-day as I recall standing in a cemetery in the middle of a cold, wet, almost empty beach proud as heck to be a Canadian!