18 September 2010 | Courseulles-sur-Mer, FR
Photo: Steph at Juno Beach
From our temporary base at François and Joseé's home in St-Agnan le Malherbe, we drove to Courseulles-sur-Mer and Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed at D-Day. Steph has been busy snapping photos and writing down her impressions as part of her First and Second World War studies. The Juno Beach Centre here is staffed by Canadians, but unlike the WWI memorials at Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel, it is run by a Veterans' non-profit organization. The museum itself is well-designed, with plenty of information about Canada before, during, and after the war, and it is a short walk to the beaches where some of the remains of Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" still stand, a reminder of the fierce opposition the Canadians faced when they landed on 6 June 1944. One bunker shows the visible scars of a shell hitting just above the gun emplacement, and this particular bunker was stormed by Lieut. Aiken's company of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, at the cost of three-quarters of his men. Many of them are buried a short distance to the south at the Canadian Cemetary at Bény-sur-Mer, along with more than 2,000 other Canadians who fell in the early weeks of the Normandy campaign. One cannot help but be moved by the immaculate condition in which these beautifully-designed cemetaries are maintained in stark contrast to the horrific conditions that claimed their occupants, and if surveying the row upon rows of headstones is not sombre enough, some of the poignant tributes left at a few of the headstones really strike home; one in particular was a note to a 19-year old soldier killed shortly after D-Day, written on the back of a photo that had to have been taken when he was a young boy, surrounded by family on a prairie farm.
Needing a bit of a lift to the day's mood, we drove into Caen and visited the Château and Musée de Normandie, where William the Conqueror built his principal castle, and Marine furthered her study of the Middle Ages....in France it is easy to pass through several eras of historical artefacts and monuments within a few kilometres!