The Canadian beach at Juno (Courseulles-sur-Mer)
It seems like any sandy beach; peaceful and calm. Even the sand dunes and the nearby village – it could be anywhere.
This beach and the beaches along 80km of coastline are the beaches of D-day – June 6th, 1944, the day when Allied Forces attacked Nazi controlled Fortress Europe and began the Liberation of France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
Now, there isn’t much to see; all the guns have been removed, the barbed wire, land mines, and beach obstacles have been cleared, the villages re-built – it all seems to normal, so quiet, so peaceful.
On that day, June 6th, 1944 – there was no peace here. At dawn the barrage began, with navy ships firing at the beach, and airplanes dropping bombs on German positions.
Off shore from the beaches in Normandy, soldiers loaded into small landing craft to take them to the beaches. They were soaked, seasick and no doubt scared. Many drowned under the weight of their heavy gear after their boats were hit by German artillery, and machine gun bullets, or their boats impaled on the posts in the shallow water. Those that did make it to the beach had to run up the beach at low tide with no protection from the bullets to attack the German machine gun and artillery positions.
Some beaches were ‘relatively’ easy and re-captured (‘liberated’ with few casualties), where as other beaches were heavily defended or required climbing up a steep cliff and many casualties. The Canadians landed at Juno Beach. Within a few hours they had control of the beach and the inland towns. On those early hours of June 6th, 1944 – 359 Canadians lost their lives, and over 700 wounded.
A few weeks ago , I was here with my children (age 9 and 12). A
pilgrimage of sort, for those that were here on that historic day, for those that lost a family member that day, and for those like my family that have no direct connection to the battle – other than it was Canadian soldiers that arrived at this beach, and Canadian soldiers that liberated the Netherlands in May 1945 (and liberated my grandparents and their 10 year old daughter whom was later to be my mother). It is Possible – some of the very same soldiers that survived the attach on this beach on June 6th 1944 also liberated the Netherlands in May 1945 !.
It is impossible to image what was going through the minds of the young Canadian soldiers as they risked their lives on this beach 71 years ago. Today, those that are living, and those that are not, would certainly appreciate what they see – flags, monuments and streets named in their Honor. The Liberated people of France and the Netherlands have not forgotten the dedication and sacrifice of those Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen that fought and died so that others can live free.
They still say “Merci” or “Dankjewel”, and I do too.