Testimony – Memories

| June 9, 2020

D-Day 2020

Serving Canada’s Juno Beach Centre

Brigadier-General Ernest B Beno, OMM, CD

Board Member, Juno Beach Centre Association of Canada

It was in the early 2000s when I met “Lieutenant” Garth Webb, the driving force behind the creation of the Juno Beach Centre, and himself a D-Day vet of 14th Field Regiment, RCA. He wanted a gun (25-Pounder) for the Juno Beach Centre, and somehow coerced me into finding one for him – from Canada or anywhere in the world. By mere chance I learned that it might be possible to get a 25-Pounder from the Irish Artillery, and Garth told me to get on with it. Within a few months the gun arrived at the CJB and “Garth’s Gun” is still on display at the CJB today. But Garth also wanted me on the Board of Directors for the CJB – and how could you refuse a request (order) from Garth? So began my involvement with the Juno Beach Centre – Canada’s monument in France to those Canadians who served in the Second World War.

Lt Garth Webb Posing in Front of “Garth’s Gun!”

Many years prior to crossing paths with Garth Webb, I met Brigadier PAS (Uncle Stan) Todd who was Commander Royal Artillery for the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on D-Day. Brigadier Todd was an incredible man, and in the 1960s became Colonel Commandant of the Royal Canadian Artillery. In 1994, the 50th anniversary of D-Day, I wanted to meet up with Brigadier Todd at the same place he was fifty years earlier. I parachuted out of a Dakota (followed by about 20 Hercules aircraft) on June 6th, 1994, then went down to Juno Beach that afternoon. Stopping in front of Canada House, I saw Stan Todd – standing by the water’s edge where 3rd Div Headquarters had come ashore 50 years earlier. I greatly admired Stan Todd as did every Canadian Gunner, and from that day on I wanted to help keep the memory of D-Day, 3rd Division and the role that the Canadian Artillery played in that campaign alive – and to pass the experience on to future generations.

Brigadier PAS Todd CRA 3rd Cdn Div

By this time, I had also completed battlefield tours with Brigadier-General SV (Rad) Radley-Walters (Canada’s “Tank Ace”), Lieutenant-Colonel Jamie Stewart of the RCA, and Lieutenant-Colonel Lockie Fulton of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles – all D-Day vets. These great soldiers inspired me to treasure Juno Beach, long before there was a Juno Beach Centre.

Yet another soldier that inspired me was Chief Warrant Officer Rudy Vallee of the Royal Canadian Artillery who, as a Bombardier, was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in action on June 7th, 1944, and yet one more was Colonel Ike Buchanan, who as a Captain Forward Observation Officer, earned his third career Military Cross on June 7th.

Chief Warrant Officer Rudi Vallee, MMM, MM, CD

These incredible soldiers taught me about the battles for Normandy, and not only inspired me, but went to great lengths to pass on their experiences to younger generations by traveling back to those battlefields decades after the bloody battles they had lived through. They had fought their war for Canada, but continued to guide, mentor and inspire future generations.

I could go on about our veterans – Army, Navy and Air Force – but I couldn’t possibly name all of those who have visited the Juno Beach Centre over the last 17 years. They often arrived  with family members in tow, and could be seen regaling the younger members of their Squadron, Regiment or Corps with their wartime stories. Air Force Lieutenant-General Richard Rohmer perhaps visited the CJB more frequently than any other veteran and boosted the visibility of the Centre considerably. We are still privileged to have his support.

Special mention must be made of modern veterans who have been tremendously important in connecting with the veterans of the Second World War and our currently-serving soldiers. I could name many, such as Generals Hillier, MacKenzie, Vance, Natynczyk, Dallaire, Leslie and so on. I could name many more. Their very presence at ceremonies – not only on D-Day – reminds the Second World War veterans that Canadians remember. It reminds Canadians that they should remember, and it demonstrates that they are prepared to carry and then pass the torch to future generations of service members. The Juno Beach Centre has been the focal point for these inter-generational exchanges. These few photos tell the story (no captions to accompany the photos here, MEV):

I am incredibly proud to be part of this noble cause – helping support the Juno Beach Centre, Canada’s museum in France which remembers and commemorates those Canadians who served in World War II. It reminds all Canadians of the sacrifices of 1939 to 1945, and the service of Canadians prior to and since World War II. The Juno Beach Centre provides Canada an important venue to communicate the sacrifices Canadians have always been prepared to make, and continue to make in places like Bosnia, Afghanistan, Mali, Iraq, Latvia, the Ukraine, and at home. It gives Europeans an opportunity to understand who we are and what we are made of, and what we are always prepared to do for the World. The Centre also offers an opportunity for Canadians of all backgrounds and status to contribute and show their support to a worthy and noble cause – remembering our past and displaying Canada, the country we are so proud of, to the world

 

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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