James Hutchingham, guide at the Juno Beach Centre, shares 2 very emotional experiences he recently went through at the museum.
The rich history of Juno Beach is one we guides share with visitors, and fortunately for us, this history is even richer due to the memories of the many living veterans that we can meet at the Juno Beach Centre. Their outlook and perspectives on life have left me speechless. As fewer and fewer veterans come back to the beaches of D Day with every passing year, I will forever hold on to the memories they have shared with me.
Here are some of the experiences I have shared with veterans this June 2017. I met Sapper Abraham Edward “Ted” Young of the Royal Engineers who landed on Juno Beach on D-Day. When Ted arrived at the Centre, I shook his hand and told him how happy I was to welcome him. He was polite, gracious, and soft spoken when he told me he didn’t remember much due to his age.
A French woman standing nearby seemed very curious. She asked me if the older man before her, wearing medals and confined to wheelchair, had landed here. When I confirmed this to her she immediately took his hand to thank him, although neither of them spoke the other’s language. When she asked me to translate her story to Ted, I was moved to tears as I told this veteran that she was only a few weeks old when she was liberated by the Canadians. I will never forget the way his eyes lit up when I explained to him how grateful she was.
I was also left speechless when I met Cpl. Alfred Barlow who was with the British 3rd Infantry Division and landed on Sword Beach at Luc-sur-Mer. He fought all the way to Netherlands, where he spent the bitter winter of 1944-45. It was in the town of Sambeek, NL, that he was subjected to German shelling which killed one of his friends right next to him.
As he was finishing sharing this difficult experience with me, a group of young Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) entered the Centre. In the spirit of international camaraderie, we took a photo with Alfred surrounded by the soldiers and within seconds, Alfred was embracing the young female soldier and was reassuring her that he holds no quarrel with Germans anymore. He explained to her his sentiment toward the Germans having suffered through the “sheer injustice of having to obey a system in they had to do as they were told or else.”
Thus, within a couple of days, I had the chance to witness the reactions of two veterans in two very different situations, that of a small child being grateful, and that of modern day German soldiers having a peaceful chat with a veteran who had lost his friend in war.
Their stories are among many that I hear and read about every day with this job. However, I think that even if I read or researched this for countless more hours, it would never make me feel the indescribable emotions that I experienced here at the Centre this June.
As the day when this generation will no longer be around to tell their stories approaches, I feel the humbling responsibility of my own generation to pass these experiences and stories to the generations that follow.
We will remember them.