Sonya and I visited Juno Beach on July 14, 2014, just over a month after the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. For us, Juno Beach was like a hundred other beaches we have visited, and like no other we had ever seen. If one didn’t know the history of the area, the beach would seem pretty unremarkable: beachfront houses, a promenade, plenty of sand, and the blue ocean shoreline. At least it would seem unremarkable until one noticed the old German gun emplacements and pill boxes. It would seem pretty ordinary until one saw the international flags, and monuments and the commemorative markers up and down the shore. Until one remembered that more than 1000 young Canadian boys from all over Canada had fallen on this edge of France coming ashore that morning, and until one remembered that nearly 400 had died.
Our visit to the area began with an early morning visit to the Canadian Military Cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer/Reviers. There are 2049 Canadian headstones there in a setting that overlooks the sea and landing beaches. These are the fallen from the first phases of Canadian operations in Normandy during the summer of 1944.
Next up was Canada House on Juno Beach at Beny-sur-Mer. Canada House is the iconic D-Day house that overlooks Juno Beach. Somehow it survived the bombardment of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944, and in the aftermath became a familiar landmark in so many black and white images and newsreels of Canadian troops. There markers remind us that Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles were in the house within 20 minutes of landing that morning, and that it was the first house in France liberated by seaborne Canadian troops. Festooned inside and out with Maple Leaf flags, Canadian regimental insignia and a collection of wartime maps, photographs and uniforms, the house features a guest book with this entry written by Ernie Kells:
“Ernie Kells, Queen’s Own Rifles – one of five soldiers who arrived at this house on D-Day, now 84 years old. Sorry about throwing grenades into your cellar.”
The Juno Beach Centre is a short drive away in Courseulles-sur-Mer. This is where the Royal Winnipeg Rifles landed on D-Day, and there are a number of restored German bunkers here to give visitors a sense of the challenges faced by the men coming ashore. We sometimes forget that most of the German defences were left intact by the elaborate air and naval bombardment on June 6 – a tribute to German engineering, I guess. Just down the beach are the remains of several tanks that landed on D-Day, and nearby is a sprawling installation made up of 359 maple tribute markers – one for every fallen Canadian killed in action on June 6, 1944. Seeing these is a particularly sobering experience.
Of course, the Juno Beach Centre was the highlight of our visit to the area. Canada’s only museum on the D-Day landing beaches, it is designed to remind visitors not just of the incredible valour of June 6, but that of all Canadians on land, in the air, and at sea during the Second World War. Our visit lasted about 2 hours, and not surprisingly, it is a spot where I could easily spend a full day. Click HERE to explore the Juno Beach Centre for yourself right now.
Just before Sonya and I rejoined our group for the trip to Arromanches, we had a fortunate, albeit brief experience – we met an actual D-Day veteran. Still remarkably spry, the old soldier was a member of the 43rd Wessex Reconnaissance Regiment of the British Army that landed on Juno Beach shortly after the Canadian landings on D-Day. How cool is that? I just wish we’d had more time to talk about his experiences.
The pictures which follow are from our Normandy Beaches Gallery. Click on any thumbnail below to see the caption and then view the gallery. The entire Normandy Beaches Gallery is available on the Photo Gallery menu.