The winds were strong at Fort Rodd Hill on Friday, where Parks Canada was holding an event marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day — the day Allied troops launched the largest seaborne invasion in history, leading to the liberation of Europe.
Two Victoria war veterans were honoured, Trevor Shuckburgh and Alice Adams.
Standing on the podium, Parks Canada’s Ray Coutu said the weather must have reminded Shuckburgh of the day of the invasion, June 6, 1944, when it was similarly windy. At the time, Shuckburgh was aboard a navy ship tasked with clearing the English Channel of submarines.
Four days later, the ship collided with an Allied aircraft carrier off the coast of Normandy, nearly splitting his vessel in two.
A rescue boat helped remove the ship’s men and tow the vessel to the nearest port.
During the chaos of the collision, a young officer from Shuckburgh’s ship ended up on the aircraft carrier. He was ordered back to the ship by the captain, who gave him a small life-raft and a paddle, Shuckburgh, now 97, recalled while speaking from the podium.
“While our crew was being transferred, we were treated to a spectacle of our young officer paddling back to our broken ship. Everyone cheered him on until he was safely aboard,” he said.
Shuckburgh’s story got laughs from a crowd that included hundreds of schoolchildren, as well as active military personnel and politicians, including Premier John Horgan.
Lawrence MacAulay, minister of veterans affairs, was also at Friday’s commemorative event, which he said served to make sure students understand the sacrifices veterans have made and to ensure history does not repeat itself.
Shuckburgh’s niece Dianna Havin travelled from Alberta to attend the event and see her favourite uncle celebrated. She was one of 37 of Shuckburgh’s relatives who came from across the country. “It was moving,” she said. “He so deserved it. Every veteran deserves this.”
Alice Adams was also honoured at the event for her work as a Wren, the name given to women in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service.
When the navy began recruiting women during the war, Adams joined the Wrens and was among the first group of wireless telegraphists.
Adams was posted to top-secret wireless stations around Ottawa, Moncton and Victoria. While in Victoria, Adams was stationed at a building known as the “White House,” on what is now the University of Victoria campus, said Stephanie Harrington, a communications officer at the university.
Adams accepted her ceremonial plaque presented by Parks Canada in memory of all Wrens.
Her grandson Greg Adams attended the event to honour his grandmother. He said he was excited to see women’s roles in the war being celebrated. “I think it’s really fantastic that they’re taking time to do that,” he said.
Coutu, manager of major events and commemorations at Parks Canada, said this year is likely the last time veterans who served during the war will be able to take part in the event. “It’s important to make that connection. [The kids] are learning it in school, but it’s quite another thing to actually hear it from people who were there,” Coutu said.
As a vintage aircraft flew overhead, children from local schools presented combat boots that were loaded onto a boat and ferried to a waiting navy ship in a ceremony that symbolized soldiers shipping out to war.