Juno75 Student Pilgrimage: Day 8 & 9 – The British and American Sectors and the Battle of Normandy

| July 15, 2019

On Day 8, we visited the American and British Sectors, and attended a ceremony for Canada paratrooper Richard La Croix. The group was treated to a ride in historic WWII Jeeps by the community of St-Vaast-En-Auge.

On Day 9, we headed south of Caen to explore the Canadian role in the latter half of the Battle of Normandy, and finished our battlefield tour.

Haileigh MacLeod – Halifax, Nova Scotia

Today was a special day in the trip for me. I got the chance to see the grave of my Great-Great-Uncle. I’m only the third member of my family to visit, so it was a meaningful event of the trip for my family.

It’s crazy to think that 75 years later, I’m one of the few to see his final resting place so far from home. What’s even crazier to think however, is that many fallen soldiers no longer have family to visit them, or remain unnamed even so many years later.

I think what made this trip so special wasn’t just the fact we saw battlefields and interacted with locals who still have tight connections to our country, but also the fact we were given the chance to research and pay our respects to fallen soldiers, who might not have been visited otherwise.

To learn about even just one soldier keeps their memories alive and reminds us that there are so many other stories and families out there.

I think everyone on this trip got emotional at one point or another, because even now, 100+ and 75+ years later, humanity still feels the same compassion and empathy for those who fight for what they believe in, even if what they believe in is just doing their duty.

War, unfortunately is one of humanities everlasting themes… but what we felt on this trip over powers that entirely making their sacrifices no longer something we read about in textbooks and online, but now something we felt.

It sounds sentimental, and gushy, but it’s true, and hard to explain without seeing it yourself.

Joel Beaudoin – Falher, Alberta

Today marks the end of our stay in Bayeux and as our pilgrimage comes ever closer to its conclusion, I would love to reflect on all of the unforgettable experiences that I had a chance to enjoy in the past 6 days. From the beaches of Normandie, to the fields and streets of Courseulles-sur-Mer, and finally the hills of Falaise. I saw many memorials, cemeteries and historical locations that without this trip, I am certain I would never had the chance to see if it was for this pilgrimage. I also can’t thank enough our chaperons, Alex, Dan, and Scott for being absolutely amazing and I would also love to thank Leslie for organizing this trip of a lifetime. Finally, I have to say that these past 10 days have been some of the most special days in my life and I will miss every single wonderful person I have met.

Morgan Dutchak – Dauphin, Manitoba

Today was the last day of our battle field study.  My favourite thing that we did today was go to the Memorial Museum to Wartime Civilians. This museum was very interesting in my opinion. I liked how it showed a perspective that is not as widely known. My favourite part of the museum was a child’s doll that was on display. The story of the doll is that a friend was keeping the doll for a little girl till the end of the war, but was never able to. We also went to Bretteville-sur-laize, which is a Canadian War cemetery. There, Scott told us the story behind three men buried there. It’s hard to believe that this is the last day of our study. I can’t believe we’ve only been on this trip for ten days; so much has happened that it feels like it’s been both longer and shorter at the same time. I’m so thankful for going on this trip. It was truly life changing.

Nick de Gier – Ponoka, Alberta

The Second World War brought total death and destruction to Normandy. Neither side was exempted. I saw the thousands of German tombstones in Normandy. Fathers, husbands, brothers, sons buried together for the ages. Omaha Beach presents a similar story. Boys from Kentucky and California fighting and lying side by side: the price of freedom. I know these words have become somewhat clichéd, but it is really their blood that paves the road to liberty. As Sgt. Bellery’s tribute at Omaha says, “You can manufacture weapons and you can purchase ammunition, but you can’t buy valor and you can’t put heroes out of the assembly line.” It was in a small village north-east of Caen that this really struck me. It was a a ceremony for the fallen Anglo-Canadian paratroopers who accidentally landed there on D-Day, a ceremony, mind you, carried out just for our visit. Out of their sincere thanks for our presence, they afterwards took us on a memorial tour in bona fide army jeeps. I would like to share the first line of a hymn sung at the ceremony:

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, Lord, abide with me.

Ryan Waugh – Hartland, New Brunswick

Armed with the opportunity to explore the Falaise Wartime Civilian Museum, I was instantly hooked by the modern design infused in all aspects of the center. This is of course due to its new construction in 2016, but it is also evident that great planning was undertaken to perfect every detail of the displays. Modern design in this case is greatly appreciated, as it directly effects the method of which information is conveyed to the viewer.

Most of all, I found the various photographs throughout the exhibits the most impactful. The images were well chosen, and being displayed on glass made the experience even more unique. Seeing individuals attempting to live amidst mass destruction  really hit home for me, especially knowing that much of it was due to the Allies. Another interesting anecdote were the letters and other items printed directly onto the display surface, something that I’ve never seen before. This made scans of newspapers and letters really stand out.

Lastly, I found the propaganda displays to be captivating, as they provide a rare glance into the lives of civilians. Beyond this, propaganda is often the clearest display of a country’s intended beliefs for its citizens, an aspect that may not always be blatantly shown to the world. Through these posters, a country’s expectations for its citizens are evident, and what is left is often unsettling.

Aidan Sander – Lethbridge, Alberta

As so eloquently stated in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “so fair and foul a day I have not seen.” I strongly believe that this phrase brilliantly summarizes the feelings that were evoked from the historical context and significance surrounding the sites we visited on day 11 of our Juno Beach pilgrimage. Although I enjoyed and greatly benefited from the learnings and lessons regarding the costs associated with war, it was saddening to see the sheer amount of lives, both Allied and German, lost during the Second World War. These teachings were explored through the visit of a German war cemetery in the morning and the American War Commission cemetery at Omaha. Both sites, although greatly different, seemed to highlight the ultimate cost that lies in pursuing any war. I was particularly touched by the large number of graves at each site, where each represented the death of an individual soldier. This experience and realization about the extent of destruction and loss of human life during the Second World War will forever remain with me.

Jayde Marcoux – Toronto, Ontario

Today we first went to Point 67 which is a memorial for the Battle of Verrieres were almost whole regiments were killed to take it. After we left for Bretteville sur Laize Canadian War Cemetery where over 2000 Canadian soldiers are buried and were I found out 58 men from the Lincoln and Welland Regiment. Welland is the city that I grew up in and I hadn’t seen that regiment at any cemetery so I was surprised to see it. After we went to Hill 140 which was the wrong hill taken by Canadian soldiers were many died to defend it because reinforcements couldn’t find their location. Later in the day we went to The Memorial to Wartime Civilians Museum which explains and talks about the civilians of occupied countries, mostly France, and their experiences before, during and after the war. Today was a packed day and a great way to end our stay in Normandy.

Alexandra McColgan – Pointe-Claire, Québec

Today, we visited our final historical sites and the ones that impacted me the most were the first two. We made our way to Point 67 and learnt about where the Royal Highland Regiment, also known as the Black Watch, fought. I feel a special connection to this regiment due to my close proximity to it, but also because my uncle, which is the soldier I chose to research, enlisted with the Black Watch. After this, we made our way to Brettville sur Lauze Canadian War Cemetary,  where we were told many moving stories about various soldiers. In one story, the eldest son died during World War Two before his mother gave birth to a younger son, who was  then named after his deceased brother. In a tragic twist of fate, that younger brother also ended up getting killed later on. In another shocking story, a man discovered that his sister was actually his mom, and his mom was actually his grandmother. When she was only fifteen, his mother was impregnated by a soldier and her family decided to keep it a secret. While growing up in the dark about his true parents, his whole family knew and it was one of his nieces who accidentally let the secret slip. These two locations hit me the most because of my connections to the Royal Highland Regiment and due to the extreme sadness that the stories conveyed over me.

Caleb Erb – North Vancouver, B.C.

Today we went to Juno Beach and learned more about the individual unit’s jobs, and what they did on the beach. We went by a few houses that were really famous, especially for the Canadians. One is in the footage, if you ever watch the only real footage of the invasion on D-Day, that is from the Canadian North Shore Regiment storming the beach. The house in the footage is also in the logo for the Juno75 Pilgrimage.  It is also in the background of the image of one soldier patting another one on the back before they jump out of the boat onto the shore. Not to be confused with the Canada House, which is very important to Canadians as it was the first house liberated, and gave them a tactical and weapons advantage as it had a machine gun mounted in it and overlooked the beach.

Nowadays, it is almost like a museum, and is filled with all donated artifacts from Canadian Regiments who fought on D-Day, and also Canadians who brought stuff to the house for others to enjoy.

The next stop was a walk through the streets of Normandy, following the exact same route that the Canadian soldiers did when they advanced off of the beach on D-Day. One of the interesting places we came across was a large field where the Germans had set up position in the field, and the Canadians didn’t know. The Germans had artillery pieces up on a high vantage point in the hedgerows that overlooked the field. Three Canadian soldiers got blown up by the German artillery rounds fired from the hedgerows. What this really brought home for us was how dangerous it was, especially in Normandy, going through the hedgerows, which are everywhere. Every single place they went they had to check every corner because they never knew where the Germans would be, and how dangerous it would be to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We went to the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery next and a few of the students did their presentations. They all went well, but something that struck me was what Lesley said about her soldier that she researched. He was related to her, he was a captain in the Canadian Army, and he was very young. He had a young wife back home. It was really upsetting and sad to hear of his death. This wasn’t the only case where a young soldier with a young wife and/or family back home had gone across and were killed and never got to see them again. She presented it from the perspective of her Grandmother when her Father was away and how her Great Grandmother felt. They never really knew if he was safe or not because a lot of the letters sent in the mail wouldn’t get to the house, or would arrive very late. There was a lot of time hoping that their loved one hadn’t been killed overseas. Lesley said that the situation was really relatable for her and she could easily step into her Grandmother’s shoes and imagine if it was her father that was away. That was really interesting to me and highlighted how quickly things can go wrong and life can change forever.

The last stop of the day was really important to me as it was the site of a massacre where the 12th SS Panzer Division committed a war crime when they killed a large number of Canadian prisons of war captured from a regiment from Nova Scotia. This was really important for me because the soldiers I researched for the trip were also killed by the 12th SS Panzer Division in a war crime as they were prisoners of war. The thing that really made me upset is that the people who were responsible for killing these Canadians were never actually fully brought to justice or suffered consequences for their actions. This is really heartbreaking and sad for me personally.  

Felix Rondeau – Lethbridge, Alberta

For today we had a break from the Canadian contribution to the war and we focused on other allies like the United States and Great Britain. At the start of the day we visited a German cemetery. That’s when I saw more clearly that there are as many losses on both sides. And then you realize that some of them didn’t want to fight, they where conscripted in to the army with no choice. Some where forced to fight in a cause they didn’t believe In. After the cemetery we went to Omaha beach and visited the American War cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place for 9387 American soldiers. This means that the American made major contributions to the war. Next we visited the German Gun Battery At Longues-Sur-Mer which is situated on a hilltop overlooking the Chanel. It is impressive how long the range is and how massive the artillerie pieces are. We then visited the remains of Port Winston Churchill. This is where I saw with my own eyes the scale of the battle of Normandie and how much supplies where needed to keep going. After that we watched a 360 degree movie about the battle of Normandie. For me this gave me the chance to review the battle as a whole. Next we kept going and we visited a small village for a ceremony dedicated to a fallen Canadian and a few British soldiers. This one of the best highlight from my trip. The ceremony felt so personal and I felt welcomed by the villagers the whole time. After the ceremony they had a surprise for us. It was a Jeep ride around the French countryside. I smiled the whole ride. All and all, this was one of the best day of the trip so far.

Battle of Normandie

First thing in the morning, We visited the memorial de Cindais on hill 67.  It was a heartfelt moment for me because one of the regiment that suffered massive losses came from my region of Alberta. Back on the bus we talked about friendly fire. It was a horrible thing. Being shot at by the enemy was one thing but being bombed by your own side would of been extremely demoralizing. It’s horrific how whole platoons and even regiment could be taken out by their own people by accident. Next we visited the second Canadian cemetery situated in Normandie. It’s now that I saw with both cemetery from Normandie that we visited, I can visualize the number of Canadian casualties in the battle of Normandie. Next we stopped for lunch by a tiger tank left by the retreating German because it ran out of fuel. For me, It was weird to stand beside a machine designed to kill and cause total chaos. Later that day, we visited a museum about the civilians life during the war. I really enjoyed going trough the museum. I really made me think about the collateral damage a war can create. These people suffered the insufferable, they suffered the consequences of a war they where not fighting in. For me, today was full of emotions. Some sad and some happy. But I enjoyed every moment of today’s adventure.

Francesca Lepore – Coquitlam, B.C.

July 11th was another fantastic day for the Juno Beach Pilgrimage. Towards the later part of the day we took part in a very personal ceremony. The ceremony payed tribute to the 6th Airborne Division men fallen in Le Pays d’Auge. This ceremony took place on Tuesday June 4th of this year. However, once Scott informed the mayor and townspeople of the connection within our Pilgrimage they gladly repeated the ceremony for us. One of the fellow student’s great grandfather was being recognized for his sacrifice as a Sergeant for the 1st Canadian Para. I was able to take part in this ceremony by reading the second section of fallen soldiers and their grave markings. It allowed me to feel personally connected to the soldiers that sacrificed their life for our freedom. After the beautiful ceremony we were taken on the WWII military jeeps. This was an amazing experience and a lot of fun to be able to ride in the jeeps used by soldiers during the Second World War. The entire group had an incredible time and enjoyed to countryside of Saint Vaast En Auge while remembering the soldiers who fought in those very cars.

Dispatches from Juno shares all the news, events, and stories from the Juno Beach Centre in France and Canada. Interested in contributing a story to the blog? Email the editor at jbca@junobeach.org.

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