Thursday June 6, 2019
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday June 6, 2019
When the tide turned: Canadians hold massive D-Day event at Juno Beach
World leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, gathered on France’s Normandy coast today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the remarkable military and political achievement known as D-Day.
There have been two commemoration events along the 10-kilometre stretch of coastline that Canadians fought to liberate — one Canadian, one international.
As many as 5,000 people, including French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, attended the Canadian event. Thursday’s commemoration in France follows another memorial, on Wednesday in the U.K., that was attended by leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and Justin Trudeau.
Their chests laden with medals, Canadian veterans listened solemnly, overlooking the tall grass and sandy expanse below in Normandy on Thursday.
Naturally, the beach today looks entirely different from the one that greeted the invading allies on June 6, 1944. The three major communities along the coastline have regained in many respects the sleepy resort quality they enjoyed before the Germans came.
Three-quarters of a century ago today, Fred Turnbull was sitting in a landing craft plowing through the grey, choppy surf towards the shell-raked Normandy coast.
His landing craft took ashore a section of troops from the Régiment de la Chaudière, a reserve brigade.
His first hint of the invasion’s cost in blood was the sight of the bodies of military divers floating in the surf — killed as they tried to disarm metal obstacles booby-trapped by the Germans.
The rising tide carried the landing craft over the deadly traps, but all six boats — including Turnbull’s barge — were blown up after they had delivered their troops and turned back to sea to get more.
Turnbull and his men had to swim from the barge to the beach. There they waited as the battle raged around them for three hours before a larger landing ship came in and took them off.
“That was the worst part of it, waiting to be rescued,” said Turnbull.
The soldiers cracked jokes about their plight and tried to remain calm while waiting for retrieval. One enterprising sailor liberated a bottle of rum from the wreckage — which no doubt made the time pass more comfortably.
Canadian military planners had expected 1,800 casualties on D-Day — killed, wounded and captured. According to federal government records, the day saw 1,074 Canadian casualties during the taking of the beachhead.
D-Day was just the beginning, though. By the end of the Normandy campaign, more than 5,000 troops had been killed out of roughly 18,000 Canadian casualties. (CBC)
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