Community Commemoration at Saint-Aubin

By five in the morning we were already loaded up in our vans rolling down the road from Bayeux to Bernièrs-sur-Mer. With the Gendarmes setting up an intensive cordon of roadblocks around the D-Day Beaches, it was imperative that we arrive as early as possible. Although possessing the necessary passes to go through the checkpoints, it was simply easier to avoid the headache and enter the cordon early. Even on our relatively quiet sector of beach, the security presence was high – with large groups of police sweeping the beaches clear and a near constant helicopter presence in the sky throughout the day’s ceremonies. Although beginning blearily in vans filled more with yawns than voices, the early morning start was well worth it. We arrived at Canada House on the Bernièrs-sur-Mer beach by half past five where we were welcomed in to a cozy breakfast of coffee and croissants.

Canada House stands as an important historic monument of the invasion, both for Canadians and for the local community. The house was captured by men of the Queen’s Own Rifles on 6 June and declared to be the first liberated building in occupied Europe. Today, the house in replete with Canadian flags and regimental colours of the Queen’s Own. Herded from the beach by the gendarmes, we drank our coffee in the front yard of Canada House as we welcomed in the other guests of the morning and enjoyed the breathtaking sunrise. Perhaps a little slow to start, Canada House was quickly filled to bursting with guests, including many past and present members of the Queen’s Own.

Shortly before eight, the main event of Canada House kicked of – a ceremony and parade from the Queen’s Own Rifles held for Governor General Julie Payette. I can safely say I never expected to be “meeting” the Governor General in my life, even with the promised political big-wigs at the commemoration ceremonies. I would certainly rather listen to the Governor General than a pandering elected politician. I believe the ceremony’s attendance was fairly selective, but even still it was quite busy. Certainly more than busy enough for me.

Although I am honoured to have been invited to the main ceremonies at the Juno Beach Centre down the beach, it was nice to be participating in smaller and more personal ceremonies. The Governor General’s Canada House ceremony was busy but enjoyable. For me, and I believe many others on this trip, the highlight of the ceremony was the speech made by a veteran of Royal Canadian Air Force who was flying over the beach on the day of the landings. What struck me most about his presence at the ceremony were the jokes he was cracking as he walked into the ceremony with the Governor General. Although in his late 90s, it was clear the sort of person he was.

Following the Governor General’s ceremony, we proceeded down the beach to the community commemoration event for the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment ad the 48th Royal Marine Commandos at Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. More than a simple ceremony on the beach, the commemoration at Saint-Aubin was a multi-tiered all-day affair. And all the better for it.

Of all the commemoration and remembrance events I’ve attended over the years, this was one of the most meaningful. It was clear to all in attendance that the community clearly remembered and honoured the sacrifices made in the name of liberation very deeply. In addition to the local community, the Saint-Aubin ceremony was bolstered by the presence of around one hundred and fifty students and teachers from northern New Brunswick. We spent the majority of the day with these students, joining their march across town for the various facets of the community’s commemoration. From the beach we walked with a band at our head, to several other city locations, including the local civilian cemetery to honour the civilian casualties of war. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch put on by the community before embarking on the culmination of the ceremonies – a two kilometer walk from Saint-Aubin to Tailleville, following in the footsteps of the North Shore Regiment. With two bagpipers at the head of our column we walked through the fields with a blue sky and bright sun. It could not have been a more fitting or honest ceremony.

Mark Symons

June 5th – Commemoration

Today was another busy day following Canadian soldiers through the Normandy Campaign in 1944. We have seen so much through the last few days that it is hard to pick one thing to single out to talk about.

An overriding theme that has struck me though is the appreciation of the French people for what these Canadians sacrificed for French freedom. I think people back home can be far removed from the actions of our Canadian soldiers during World War II to fight and defeat tyranny and murderous racism. Hollywood, which influences much of the public’s knowledge of what happened between 1939 and 1945, often focuses on the deeds of American soldiers. I think most Canadians will know about WWII through programs like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers but don’t always know about what Canada’s role was and perhaps have forgotten these men in ways. The French have not forgotten. Travelling around to these locations not only makes me feel incredible pride in being a Canadian and learning what these men did for Canada, but also clearly illustrates how grateful the French people are for Canada’s sacrifice in fighting towards their liberation from Nazi Germany. I wish every young Canadian could do a trip like this and see the reverence still held for their country by the people of France after all these years. I knew that Canada helped liberate France but seeing the monuments and commemorative sites make it so much more tangible and real for me. The Canadian contribution will not be forgotten thanks to organizations like CBF but it will always be remembered and appreciated in France as well.

Once again, thank you CBF for this amazing experience!

~Kyle Bell

D-Day Academy to Carpiquet

Today we went to the D Day Academy to get a firsthand experience of some of the weaponry and machinery used in the European Theatre. The gentleman who runs it, Jean-Pierre, was very nice and encouraged us to pick up guns and climb over the vehicles. I love that sort of stuff, so I was really in my element. My favourite pieces of the collection were the MG-42, the Panzerschrek, the anti-aircraft gun that still swung around, and the ride in the field command truck. He also had a large cross of Lorraine French flag, which I’ve been looking for while here. One of the men there told me that I likely will not find one, and I’m better off making my own. In a way, that makes it more authentic considering the Free French would have had to make their own as well.

We made many stops throughout the day, but the one that sticks with me the most is the Abbaye d’Ardenne. Twenty Canadian prisoners of war were executed there by the 12th SS Hitlerjugend in the days following D-Day. The mood inside the courtyard was somber and eerie, and made more so by the dreary, rainy weather. When we walked out the courtyard, we heard a trumpeter playing Last Post and Reveille from the monument across the wall. Everyone in the group instinctively came to a halt to listen. I think everyone felt the same thing I did; a profound sense of loss and respect for those men. We all paid our respects with an impromptu moment of silence after the trumpet had gone quiet. This was truly a moving experience, and one we shared collectively.

Lastly, I got to do my first presentation, which was on the North Shore Regiment at Carpiquet. I used an old essay I wrote in my undergrad as the basis, and used Marc Milner’s book D Day to Carpiquet for additional information and a quote that contradicts the prevailing narrative that the battle (part of Operation Windsor) was a failure. Despite the rain, I think it went well. Overall it was a fantastic day. I’m looking forward to the D-Day ceremonies in a few days!

— Josh Sheppard

Living History

Our day began with a trip to the WWII cemetery at La Cambe, where German soldiers of many ranks and divisions are buried, including soldiers of the German SS. An academic interest in forms of commemoration carried me as far as the front gates, but I did not go further.  My family lived in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation there; the memories of the fear and pain they endured weighed heavily on me as I stood at the gate looking in. I could not enter a space where men like the ones my family encountered were laid to rest. The experience was an emotional and difficult one for us all.

Although I struggled with my emotions at La Cambe, I was deeply impressed by the groups of German soldiers we encountered throughout the day, at La Cambe, Pointe du Hoc, and Overlord Museum. As a group they were respectful, thoughtful, and interacted with their nation’s history straightforwardly and honestly. I was struck by the fact that I could stand among them without fear, an experience so different from that of my grandparents, and I was thankful in a new way for the sacrifices made to bring peace and rebuild a better world.

We took the evening off to explore the city of Bayeux, home of the famous Bayeux tapestry and an exceptionally beautiful cathedral, where we were fortunate enough to hear the pipe.  One of the benefits of this trip is the ability to see history layered into a place as old as this cathedral.  The architecture and art spans hundreds of years, and the memorials dedicated in the church are still being added. What seems ancient and solid is really a living and changing space.

Emily Engbers,

Kings University College, London Ontario