Normandy Family Cared for Canadian Soldier’s Collapsible Landing Bicycle for 76 Years
BURLINGTON, ON / COURSEULLES-SUR-MER, NORMANDY– April 13, 2021 – The Juno Beach Centre, Canada’s Second World War museum in Normandy, France, has acquired a sought-after artifact that holds special significance for Canadians. An Airborne Folding Bicycle assigned to Canadian soldier Marius Aubé for the infamous 1944 D-Day landings was donated to the museum by the French family who came into possession of it after the landings.
This past Christmas Eve, Normandy residents Marie-Claude Halot and Joëlle Letellier, contacted the Juno Beach Centre (JBC) with the news that their recently-deceased father had requested for the bike to be donated to “the Canadian museum” after his death. Christian Costil died in November 2020, and his daughters were determined to make good on their promise to ensure the bike made its way to the JBC.
“What’s so incredible about this artifact is that it’s so iconic,” said Marie Eve Vaillancourt, Manager of Exhibitions at the JBC. “For many, the historical photos of Canadian soldiers landing at Juno Beach with these bikes are very familiar. For over 75 years this bike was only a few doors away from our museum, kept by a diligent family who lovingly cared for it out of respect and gratitude for what the Canadians accomplished for the French back in 1944. It’s a very special moment when such symbolic object leaves the hands of its initial caretaker, passes through the family’s generations and finally arrives at our doorstep.”
Bicycles, including the Airborne Folding model, were used by Canadian and British soldiers who landed in Normandy on D-Day. They were assigned to airborne units and also provided to infantry or service units, allowing soldiers to travel greater distances while remaining silent and undetectable to the enemy.
The artifact was safely delivered into the care of the JBC’s director, Nathalie Worthington, whose family was themselves liberated by Canadian forces in 1944. Marie-Claude and Joëlle shared the bike’s fascinating history with Nathalie, including the story of how it came to be an integral part of their father’s life many decades ago.
Christian Costil was 14-years old and living in Ranville, Normandy, when he met Marius Aubé in the summer of 1944. Marius, a Canadian soldier from Sherbrooke, QC, had landed at Graye-sur-Mer on D-Day, and spent the summer serving with the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps near Christian’s family farm as the Battle of Normandy raged. Marius befriended Christian, often visiting the farm, and when his regiment pushed onward to Germany during the final year of the war, Marius offered Christian his folding bicycle as a parting gift. Thus began a 40-year friendship between the two young men.
Christian kept the bike for 76 years. According to his daughters, he used it daily to commute to college in nearby Bayeux. After working on the family farm until he was 28, Christian went to work for a major French energy company as a meter reader. He removed the backseat of his Citroën 2CV, making space for the folding bicycle to accompany him to each community, using it to make his rounds from house to house reading meters until his retirement in 1985. Christian then carefully stored the bicycle but couldn’t part with it during his lifetime.
“My dad had an almost otherworldly love for this bike,” said Marie-Claude. “We weren’t allowed to touch it! But he was very modest and rarely spoke of Marius.”
The two men established a lengthy correspondence, prompted by Marius who sent his first letter to Christian in 1945 when he was still stationed in Germany. Throughout their lives, they kept in contact, Marius often closing his letters by signing, “from a friend who will never forget you”.
Marius died in 1988 and is buried in the veteran section of St. Michel cemetery in Sherbrooke.
“We have acquired a lot more than just a famous bike from historical photos, we’ve also acquired the human story behind this object, and we’ve acquired a little bit of just how enduring the friendships that were forged in fire decades ago remain,” said Vaillancourt. “It is now our honor – and our duty – to relay this artifact’s significance to future generations. While material history from the Second World War will be increasingly more difficult to find in years to come, it will be even harder to secure objects that have not been rendered anonymous by the passing of time.”
Marie-Claude and Joëlle also donated seven letters between Marius and their father to the JBC, allowing the museum to track down his brother, Gilles Aubé, who helped fill in some of the details about the Canadian soldier’s life after the war.
Gilles was adopted in 1945 by the Aubé family because the mother of the family had declared that if Marius returned safely from the war, she would adopt a child. Due to their age difference, Gilles never got to know his brother well, but remembers him as a “branchless bird” who lived an independent life. Marius had no children. He did return to Normandy at least twice after the war, but by an unfortunate combination of circumstances, he and Christian never again met in person. An unexpected new friendship, however, has blossomed as a result of this donation. Christian’s daughters are now in touch with Marius’ niece, Nadia Aubé, continuing the international connection that was forged so many years ago.
“Dad would have been happy to see [the bike] here,” said Marie-Claude Halot. “It’s a little story within a big one. Because behind war, behind weapons, there are also stories of friendship.”
Visitors to the Juno Beach Center will be able to experience cycling in the museum’s lobby upon its reopening.
Updated visitor information, including COVID-19-related changes, for Canadians in Europe or planning a trip to Europe is available at www.junobeach.org along with a rich variety of Second World War resources for the public, educators and students. The JBC will mark the 77th anniversary of D-Day on June 6th, 2021.