We first visited the Canadian cemetery at Dieppe. Here lie 600 casualties of Dieppe – all of whom were deeply missed by their loved ones.
The Canadian cemetery here is is unlike any other of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It was dug by the Germans after the raid and is therefore the only Allied cemetery where the soldiers are buried head-to-head, in the German fashion. This effort, and the ceremony the Germans held for our fallen in 1942, speaks towards the respect and admiration the world held for Canada on that fateful day.
The Dieppe cemetery is also unique in the level of personal emotion inscribed on each tombstone. This aspect was deeply moving. Many families dispensed with traditional odes of glory, instead opting to honour their kin with tearful farewells. How difficult it must have been to decide on a final goodbye using only 160 characters.
Yet, the cemetery’s inscriptions offer a vivid glimpse into the love that was felt for the first Canadian soldiers to die in the Second World War. By the saddening inscriptions, one soldier joined his baby sister, Pauline, in heaven. Another soldier was “one of many, but he was ours”. One trooper would be missed by not only his family, but also his dog, Slippers. Two brothers were killed that day, and now rest together in the same plot. All on the tour were touched deeply by these inscriptions.
This was all in contrast with a different form of remembrance in Normandy. First we visited Pegasus Bridge, then the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches. Here, military history hobbyists come from all across Europe for the D-Day anniversary. What a spectacle. People arrive dressed in old uniforms they bought online. They drive restored Jeeps, with meticulously accurate war kit in the trunk. They stop by roadside war exhibits in gatherings akin to football tailgate parties. At Pegasus Bridge, they stop to drink beer and display merchandise.
Yet, these gatherings are not without excitement! The whole village of Arromanches gathers for a carnival, with live performances on the boardwalk. We ate ice cream on the beach, while inspecting the Mulberry caissons and taking in the live Glenn Miller tribute on the promenade. Gift shops were everywhere to immortalize your experience.
When asked what they thought of these carnivals, Second World War veterans were divided. One group believed that these festivals were exciting and would promote the greatest amount of awareness of the War. They are also a celebration of liberation. Veterans on the other side found these spectacles obtuse and insensitive to soldiers’ sacrifice. They found these carnivals materialistic and centred around personal profit.
What was most striking today was simply experiencing these two forms of remembrance in such close temporal proximity. Let us all remember the selfless sacrifice of our predecessors. Let us make remembrance respectful, yet accessible. Lest we forget.
– Michael Kryshtalskyj