Memories – Testimony

| April 7, 2020

Today, we share with you the testimony of Pam Calvert, Director of the Juno Beach Centre in Canada. In this text, Pam tells us her journey of remembrance.

“It started simply with a veteran in 2005: Lieutenant Commander Gordon Hendery RCN, when he told my history classes at Oakville Trafalgar High School about his Second World War experiences. You could have heard a pin drop as he recounted his story.

He asked me afterwards whether my students knew the stories of the soldiers on our school cenotaph. I was ashamed to say they did not. He told me they needed to know those stories so they would understand and remember the sacrifices that were made to give us the Canada we have today. The next year I went on a summer teacher battlefields tour run by the Juno Beach Centre and I was forever changed after I walked into the D-Day cemetery not far from Juno Beach. Row after row of headstones… Most of them just boys in their late teens and early twenties. It was heartbreaking…2,000 of them…so many…I cried. Who were they? Where did they come from? Were they single of married? What did they want to do when they came home? The echoes of their footsteps were everywhere. In the cemeteries, on the beaches…at the memorial sites. It became for me all about telling their stories. In cemeteries I found sets of brothers, Jewish headstones with small rocks on the top, Indigenous and ethnic names, small Canadian flags, pins and pictures and mementos from previous visitors. It was profound and powerful. When I was able to return later on with students who had researched a soldier, they would sit quietly, reverently and proudly at “their” soldiers’ headstones…The students had become the storytellers. They too heard the echoes of voices, long ago silenced, but now brought to life. Not all students can afford these trips but through archival digital documents and virtual technology they can visit cemeteries and connect with their soldier. Once a soldier’s story is told, he is never forgotten.

I realized that the secret to teaching history to the next generation was storytelling. Student storytelling…

I am passionate about helping the JBC tell the legacy, accomplishments and lessons from our Second World War. I have volunteered for the JBCA in Canada since 2007. It is a museum that tells the story our veterans wanted to tell Canada. It is an amazing educational experience for students, families and visitors from around the world.

As the crowd of 6,000 people watched our 38 veterans slowly make their way down to the beach after the Canadian ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day June 6th, 2019 at Juno Beach – most in wheelchairs, some with canes and a few without support – I wondered what they were thinking. I hoped they were not remembering the horrors of war and the loss of their friends, but the liberation they brought to Normandy and then the Netherlands as they helped end the Nazi stranglehold on Europe. They stood for peace, freedom and tolerance and made those values true to the Canada we are today.

We must pass on the stories and the importance of good people standing together to make the world a better place.

I will leave you with this poem that the founder of the Juno Beach Centre, Garth Webb, often read at his presentations.

YOU BOUGHT ME TIME
By Arnie Hanenberg RCAF

You gave your lives in World War Two, and even though I fought with you
I lived – it was my due? … You bought me time
Time to see my family grow, see my grandkids faces glow…
Things that you will never know… You bought me time
Time to work and time to play, watch a sunset after day.
Watch my garden grow in May…You bought me time
Stanley Cups and Super Bowls, worked at my job – achieved my goals,
Wore many hats, played many roles …You bought me time
75 years and even more I’ve lived since that costly war
No aircraft whine, no cannon roar…You bought me time
And now I am over 90 – I’ve had a life full and free
I thank you all eternally….You bought me time

Thank you for letting me share my journey of Remembrance.
Lest We Forget.”

 Lt. Cmdr. Gordon Hendery 1944

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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