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