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.