Vancouver Islanders remembered. Canadians remembered. Around the world, people remembered the courage and sacrifice of war veterans, most now in their 90s. Thousands joined ceremonies in Canada, the United Kingdom and France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day — June 6, 1944.
On the eve of that momentous day, wave upon wave of Canadians, American and British soldiers boarded a flotilla of ships from the southern English city of Portsmouth to cross the English Channel. After braving stormy seas, the soldiers were met by heavy machine-gun fire as they struggled to claim the shores of Normandy, France. Many lives were lost, but they succeeded.
It was the beginning of a massive invasion to wrest Europe from the clutches of Nazi tyranny. The war, which began on Sept. 1, 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland, would finally end on May 8, 1945. It was the deadliest conflict in history.
Last week, a handful of surviving Canadian veterans from D-Day and the battles in Normandy returned to the stretch of coastline now known as Juno Beach to mark the anniversary. Joining them were thousands of Canadians representing various ages and communities, united in honouring the courage of the men who came from communities large and small across the country.
The focal point was a Canadian ceremony outside the Juno Beach Centre, a private museum established in 2003 whose mission is to educate visitors about the role Canada played on D-Day and in the Second World War.
Vancouver Island sacrificed disproportionately on D-Day. “The soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the Victoria-based Canadian Scottish regiment were among the first ashore when more than 14,000 Canadians landed in Normandy that day,” Times Colonist columnist Jack Knox wrote in a story about the role Island veterans played on D-Day.
“Other Islanders piloted landing craft through the mine-strewn surf, or parachuted into the blackness of the pre-invasion night.”
In Portsmouth, the war’s terrible and tragic story was played out in an elaborate ceremony attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Queen and other world leaders as well as a handful of the veterans.
Trudeau and the other leaders paid homage to those who fought and died defeating Nazi Germany, and promised to work together to ensure the horrors of that global conflict are never again repeated.
Across the Channel, American and British paratroopers dropped into northwestern France and scaled cliffs beside Normandy beaches, recreating the daring, costly invasion that helped liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.
On Thursday, veterans and dignitaries, including Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, attended a ceremony in Halifax marking the D-Day anniversary. Payette began her day on the sands of Juno Beach, and she told the audience in Halifax it was impossible to imagine the horror that unfolded 75 years earlier when the small parcel of land became “hell on Earth.”
She thanked the veterans present and stressed the importance of remembering their sacrifice.
“We need to remember, but one, perhaps, of the most important lessons that we get from this is a lesson of hope,” Payette said. “The reason, at the end, was to provide a free world, opportunities for all to live a free life, and that is a message of hope.”