Friday, October 2nd.
Driving along the narrow country roads which took us through the villages of Normandy we were again struck with the number of homes and villages that flew the American, Canadian, UK and French flags!!
It was heart-warming to think many of these villagers remembered and were thankful for the huge sacrifice many foreign families had made in liberating their country.
At the museum at Arromanches they showed a 360 degree movie, made from clips donated by Allied and German sources. The noise from the battle, the confusion and chaos show in the film was overwhelming. I can’t even begin to imagine what was going through those soldiers minds.
Capturing Arromanches was significant to the success of the invasion. Once the British had landed at Gold beach and joined forces with the Canadian troops who had landed at Juno Beach they took Arromanches by the evening of June the 6th before advancing and taking the town of Bayeux by the evening of June 7th.
From the 1942 Dieppe Raid they had learned that taking one of the heavily defended Channel Ports intact would be difficult. The alternative was to create artificial harbours off the landing beaches. These consisted of 146 massive cement caissons towed over from England and sunk to form a semicircular breakwater in which floating bridge spans were moored.
The creation of this “harbour” was of crucial importance because the Allied troops needed all their weapon supplies to fend off a German counterattack.
In the 3 months after D-Day a mind boggling 2.5 million soldiers, four million tonnes of equipment and 500,000 vehicles were unloaded.
One of the harbours established at Omaha was completely destroyed by a ferocious gale just 2 weeks after D-Day but Port Winston can still be seen near Arromanches.
Bill had to take 3 pictures of the huge photo on a wall in the museum to show this incredible accomplishment.
It was tough to imagine such turmoil, activity, confusion and noise accompanied by death on today’s tranquil beach!
Just 12 km down the beach we found the dune lined Juno Beach at the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer, which Canadians stormed on June 6th, 1944. After heavy losses on the beach (50% of lives lost in the first hour) this Division of the 5 beach landing zones made the farthest advance into enemy territory by the evening of D-Day. When they contacted the other divisions and told they were surrounded by German soldiers they had to retreat. They did this by slopping mud onto their tanks thereby covering all insignia. The German soldiers, expecting the Panther Division to roll by, thought they were a new style of German tanks and waved and cheered as they passed on their way back to the Allied lines.
Of interest; we discovered that the troops landed West to East coincidently by province, except for Manitoba and Saskatchewan who didn’t; BC, AB, Manitoba then Saskatchewan, ON, Que. Interesting.
Inaugurated on June 6th, 2003, the Juno Beach Centre is the brainchild of a group of Canadian WWII veterans who took part in D-Day and the battles that followed throughout Normandy and north-western Europe.
Up until this time there was no commemorative museum recalling Canada’s participation in WW II.
Hats off to Garth Webb (1918-2012), soldier of the 14th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery who was the driving force behind the creation of the Juno Beach Centre. Although not Federally funded many Provincial governments donated funds as well as many private corporations and Canadian Citizens toward the building of this memorial.
Bilingual Canadian Students staff this memorial in fact the young lady that took care of us at the entrance was from St. Albert where we had lived for 13 years. The young lady at the cash register was from Burlington, Ontario, down the road from Toronto and a young man who took us on tour was from Montreal. Their contract, with a private Canadian company who operates the site, is for 7 months.
The museum is built on a 1.5 hectare lot, generously made available by the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer (previously it was a campground). The lines of the building reflect the pentagon shape of the Order of Canada and the outline of the maple leaf, Canada’s symbol.
When we entered the museum we felt as if we were entering Canada. It was an especially welcomed feeling having not been there for almost 6 months.
The museum offers quite a tribute to all those who lost their lives that day and the sacrifice they and all their families made
The most poignant moment for me happened at the end of the panoramic film titled, “They Walk With You”. A present day family of 4 were walking down the beach talking about the war and the memorial. The father asked, “Should we keep walking” and the children responded, “Yes”. With that said they continued walking and images of Canadian soldiers in full battle dress carrying their weapons started to appear walking behind them.
There was much reflection happening in our RV as we headed to our campground.
The Municiple Campground situated on a terraced hillside had a tremendous view of the water. We just caught the tail end of an incredible sunset.
Sleep came quickly after a very emotional and thought provoking day