It's impossible to describe the emotions that hit us as we toured the site where 21 400 Canadians landed on June 6, 1944, taking on the German army that had occupied France for the previous four years. Although I have attended a Remembrance Day service almost every year since I was born, and have read many books and seen many movies about the Second World War, it was not until I stood on this beach looking back at the still standing German bunkers that I really FELT what an incredible sacrifice our young Canadian men have made. Although they knew that the Germans would be waiting to pick them off as they jumped into waist deep water, they bravely plunged ahead, braving artillery fire from the Germans, land mines that had been planted on the beach, all the while carrying 70 pounds of heavy equipment.
|The beach today|
|The beach today|
340 Canadian men were killed on and 574 injured on the first day of fighting. In spite of this, the Canadians were the only ones to break through the German lines, doing so in under 3 hours. The Americans and English were not quite so lucky in their fighting several miles away at Omaha, Utah, Sword and Gold Beaches, so the Canadians were on their own behind enemy lines as they hoped for the Americans and British to join them.
The Canadian War Memorial is exceptionally well done, with films and displays to explain the lead up to the war, the impact on civilians in France and back home in Canada, and the aftermath of the war. Two things really impacted me: a film that showed smiling and joking young men as young as 16 heading off to war; so many of them did not make it back; the other showing the city of Caen, where we are presently staying, under attack by the allies. Most of the civilians were killed and almost every building was destroyed. The only building left standing was the cathedral! So very very sad.
Outside of the Memorial building is a display of markers honouring all the Canadians who died liberating this part of France.
Although he made it past the first German lines at the beach, Bryce's uncle was killed on D Day as his troop was engaged in fighting inland.
We also visited the Canadian War Cemetary at Beny Sur Mer to see Bryce's uncle's grave.
It was touching to see the little stone that Bryce's sister Judy had laid there when she came to visit a couple of years ago.
This is a beautifully kept cemetary, and it was once again a solemn reminder of the many young men who died so that we could enjoy the amazing freedom that we enjoy today.
I was struck throughout the day at the impact that this war had on people from my parent's generation; all of those who lost brothers, sweethearts, husbands; all of those who survived but came home forever changed. I thought of people in my own generation whose fathers were angry, violent, alcoholic, never receiving help, but visiting their pain upon their own children. Today's visit gave me a profound sense of gratitude to those of my father's generation, but also a deep sense of sorrow at the high cost of war on future generations.