June 6, 1944: D-Day
"The German dead were littered over the dunes, by the gun positions. By them, lay Canadians in blood stained battledress, in the sand and in the grass, on the wire and by the concrete forts. I saw friends I had known, men who had joined the army in the first months of the war - and now had died in their first action here on the Norman beach. They had lived a few minutes of the victory they had made. That was all."
War is ugly and not a noble adventure. Those who glorify it and glamorize the Warrior is doing us all a great disservice. This is not to say that some individual rise to great levels of valour in battle and even risk and lose their lives for their mission and their comrades. Few wars are just wars. I believe the Second World War was a just war, a necessary evil in the face of an even greater evil. Even as a pacifist I recognize them and honour those who answered the call.
I take this day each year to learn a little more about " Operation Overlord", D-Day. It was an epic and heroic enterprise, for which failure was not an option.
Canada, along with Britain and the United States came ashore along 80 kilometers of Normandy Coast. A vast armada of ships, bomber, fighter and glider aircraft made the crossing of the English Channel. It was the largest such invasion in human history and a masterful logistical operation.
Who remembers the names of the beaches the various armies came ashore at? History in our society is not well taught in schools and yet for those interested there are great opportunities to learn a lot of history, on the Internet and through international travel to visit the actual places where great events took place. The Canadian troops came ashore at Juno Beach, with the British on either side to the east and west, Sword and Gold respectively. The Americans were coming ashore at the two Western beaches, Omaha and Utah beaches.
Canada's troops had a very challenging engagement with the German defenses. It was only less challenging that the Americans at Omaha Beach. In the spirit if the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War, the Canadian soldiers rose to the occasion and achieved their goal, with many casualities but less than expected, They moved inland further than any other military of that day. According to the historian John Keegan,
“At the end of the day, its forward elements stood deeper into France than those of any other division. The opposition the Canadians faced was stronger than that of any other beach save Omaha. That was an accomplishment in which the whole nation could take considerable pride.”
If you are interested in reading about the Canadians assault in Juno Beach go here,
where I found the two quotations I have used.
The Canadian soldiers who died in Normandy are buried in the cemetery , Bény-sur-Mer
I was surprised to learn that the Canadian prisoners of war who were murdered by the Germans under the command of Kurt Meyer, are also buried their. This historic event has fascinated me for many years. Kurt Myers was an SS Commander, who had a glorious career in the German Army, He fought in Poland, Greece, Russian and began his career in 1933 as part of the unit that protected Hitler. He was a dedicated Nazi ready to fight to the death for their cause. In Normandy, he ignored the laws of war and failed to protect the Canadian prisoners of war under his supervision at Abbaye Ardenne. He is the only German soldier than Canada tried for war crimes. He was sentenced to death which was later reduced to life imprisonment. In 1954, he was released do to ill health, a less than satisfactory resolution for some. There is a tribute video on Youtube if you are interested in such things. There are those who still admire him and his military achievement.
When I first met my neighbour whose last name is Meyer, I amused myself asked him if he was related to Kurt Meyer. He didn't know what I was talking about. When I explained the reference to him he said no his family was Dutch from the Netherlands Frisian area. I really did not think he was related to Kurt Meyer.
As an act of remembrance today, I recommend the video below. It is an encounter in the American War Cemetery at Omaha Beach between an aged American Veteran (101 Airborne) and a Frenchman who wanted to thank him for the US saving of France as he remembered it in his youth. I found it very touching. This is not an uncommon experience: the people of Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands remember and are grateful to the Allies sacrifice of their behalf. Anyone who has travelled to these countries will become aware it.
On Youtube there is a series of video that tell the story of the Canadian experience in Normandy. It is a interesting reminder of a time past when ordinary Canadians were called upon to rise to extraordinary challenges.
Part One: http://youtu.be/s_SfDEzT8TQ
Part Two: http://youtu.be/p7e2H7TyNEk
Part Three: http://youtu.be/_ONQ3Lld2eg
Part Four: http://youtu.be/ZyQKO596p3o
Part Five: http://youtu.be/6hM8eNxaYJ4
I look forward to the day I can visit Juno Beach and the Canadian Museum there. How hard will it be to imagine the horror and chaos of that day so may years ago, June 6, 1944, while people and children enjoy the delights of the seashore, sand and sea.?