June 5th, 2019

We had a busy past few days as we visited many military cemeteries and D Day Academy which was a military museum filled with trucks and Canadian, American, and German military equipment and guns. Today (June 5th) we started off the day by learning about Operation Epsom by looking at Hill 112 which was described as “Just like Verdun”. Chances here for death was high unless you were bunkered down or on high ground. Next, to Point 67 where there was continuous action for 3 weeks to a month which was interesting. It was eye opening and informative to learn more about our history.

— Mackenzie Sharkey

May 30th, 2019

Today was probably one of the most interesting days that I have found thus far. Starting of at the Australian memorial and monument for the First World War along with the Sir John Monash Center. This memorial was definitely one to remember as the way they told their story through their various films, posters, and artifacts was impressive. I was very happy to have been able to go to that memorial and pay my respects. We also spent the time to visit Dury Cemetery where we visited more graves of fallen soldiers. Following that we went on to learn about the Canal du Nord from one of the other students that did a presentation on it. I was not too familiar with this battle before the presentation, yet I learnt that there were 12 Victorian Crosses awarded. To end off our day we visited the Museum of the Great War in Perrone. I found this museum interesting as it had artifacts and Britain, French, Canadian, German, and American uniforms and what each soldier carried on their person each day. For the second time today, I had another great learning experience at a museum that I will never forgot.

— Mackenzie Sharkey

Day 7: On to WWII

Wow, day #7 already! What an experience this has been for all of us, with so much more to come in the next nine days. We are all very fortunate to have this experience with such knowledgeable leaders and passionate fellow-students.

As you can see from the previous blog posts, we have had very busy days full of visits to WWI monuments and cemeteries. Personally, after dinner it is all I can do just to make it to my bed before falling asleep! So much learning and absorbing has been insightful and educationally inspiring, but we were all feeling some slight burn-out by day #7. Thankfully, today gave us the rest our brains needed to be rearing and ready-to-go as we head into the WWII portion of the tour!

This morning we packed up from our beautiful houses just outside of Albert, Northern France, and started with a stop at a cemetery just outside of Amiens. Our leader, Dr. Marc Miler, is an honorary colonel of the 403 Helicopter Squadron, so we stopped to visit the graves of two members of this squadron, both killed during WWII. From there we drove to Amiens for just over an hour of free time to wander and see the largest cathedral in France!

Another hour and a half drive finally got us to the coastal city of Dieppe. A quick lunch break, and then we headed onto the beach to listen to presentations from Kyle (general overview of the Dieppe Raid) and Haley (focus on the Royal Regiment of Canada’s experience on Blue Beach during the Dieppe Raid). Afterward, Dr. Milner shared with us his thoughts and knowledge on the topics, and then we were right back into the vans and heading into central Dieppe.

We all noticed right away that Dieppe had a key difference from the wide-open country we had become accustomed to: PEOPLE! Dieppe is a very busy tourist town, especially with the upcoming D-Day ceremonies and the fact that yesterday was a French holiday.

We got checked into our hotel and freshened up before walking down to the beach, which is one minute from our hotel! Right away we saw monuments dedicated to the Canadians who died during the Dieppe Raid, some having been erected within the last few years. Surprisingly, the soldier I am doing my presentation on was commemorated on one of the newer monuments. Victor Fredrick Olliffe was a trooper in the 14thCalgary Tank Regiment, and I look forward to sharing his story with the group and honouring his sacrifice tomorrow at the Dieppe cemetery. We listened to a presentation from Jacob (focus on the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry’s experience on Red and White Beach during the Dieppe Raid), and then our wise leaders on the happenings of August 19th, 1942.

Finally, at about 3:30pm, we were set free for the rest of the day! Roaming along the seawall and exploring the city at a leisurely pace gave us the break we all needed. Dinner, then some time spent soaking up the sun on the beach, and its already time to get ready for tomorrow!

Here’s to another nine days of learning, honouring and experiencing.

-Megan Hamilton, Vernon, BC


Day 13: The 75th Anniversary of D-Day

June 6thmarks the day that, 75 years ago, Operation Overlord was launched. Also known as “D-Day”, Operation Overlord was the biggest amphibious assault in history, and it was launched by the Allied forces onto the beaches of the Normandy coast of German-occupied France. There were four distinct beaches, with each falling responsibility to either the Americans, the British, or the Canadians. Juno Beach was where the Canadians would land on June 6th, 1944. We have spent much time in the past few days learning about the Canadian efforts in the Normandy campaign. However, today was a day that will be a significant memory in our minds for years to come. I hope to be able to capture the general experience of the group on a day that was a whirlwind of honouring and remembering those who sacrificed themselves in the hopes of creating a peaceful world.

The group had the honour and privilege of attending and participating in multiple different ceremonies today. Our day started early, leaving our residence at 5am sharp to be able to arrive at Canada House before the road blockades were set up. Canada House was the first building to be liberated on D-Day by the Canadian forces. We watched the sunrise onto the beach and waited for the ceremony to begin around 8am. There were many Canadians there and we all stood outside the house, awaiting the arrival of the Governor General, Julie Payette. Mackenzie and I had the honour of laying a wreath during the ceremony on behalf of the CBF. The ceremony was smoothly run and had a distinctive sense of Canadian pride, as it was a smaller and more intimate ceremony. The Governor General and a Royal Canadian Airforce D-Day veteran concluded the ceremony by walking down onto the beach.

From there we walked down the beach to a ceremony put on by the municipality of Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer, who was liberated by the New Brunswick North Shore Regiment 75 years ago. The special aspect of this ceremony is that there were 150 high school students from New Brunswick in attendance. Once the beach ceremony concluded, we joined the students in parading down the street and into town, stopping once along the way to witness the unveiling of a new plaque. Another ceremony was held in Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer, and then we all paraded to the local civilian cemetery to pay respects to the civilians caught in the crossfire 75 years ago. From that point, we all walked to a gymnasium for lunch and several presentations.

One of the most memorable moments for myself today was being read the last letter that Major MacNaughton of the North Shore Regiment wrote to his wife and children, two days before he was killed on D-Day. Few eyes remained dry during that reading, and it really reminded me of the human aspect of what we have been learning about. All of these people we are honouring and remembering had a family and friends and a life. How do we honour them in a way that signifies the sacrifice they made? It is a difficult question to ponder, yet continuing to honour and remember them is the least we can do.

Once finished, the whole group of at least 200 people walked 2km to the town of Tailleville to honour the North Shore Regiment’s efforts in liberating the area with the unveiling of a new plaque. Once that ceremony was concluded, our group walked through the countryside, back to our vans. The weather had been spectacular all day; sunny with clouds and a slight breeze.

Before heading home we stopped at the Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian WWII Cemetery. It is a major Canadian cemetery for the Normandy campaign, as well as the fact that Mackenzie has a family friend’s father buried there. To finish the day off, we also found the grave of Major MacNaughton.

To say the least, today was an emotional one. It is not a light or easily-described feeling, but I know that I am proud to be Canadian. I feel humbled by the fact that I could make my small contribution to the memory of these soldiers by honouring them today.

We have three days left together as a group and I look forward to making the best of our experience.

-Megan Hamilton, Vernon, BC