I flew out of Fredericton on June 1st…leaving about 1 hour late and thus arriving in Ottawa about 1 hour late.
I was met at the airport by Patricia and Claudia from VAC and taken to the hotel. I spent the rest of the day meeting other delegates as they arrived and getting some rest.
One of our veterans, Alex Polowin, played a harmonica duet with one of our medical staff, Pamphil Putu.
On Sunday, June 2nd, we were briefed about our trip and had a luncheon…By mid-afternoon, we were loading on the buses to take us to Uplands Airport where we were boarding a Canadian Armed Forces flight to Lille, France.
I made 2 new friends, George Chow and his caregiver, Edmund Wu who are from an ANAVETS Unit in British Columbia.
After a 6-1/2 hour flight, we arrived at Lille, France. Then followed a 4 hour bus ride to our home for the next 6 days, a hotel in Deauville – the Hotel du Golf Barriere…..Stay tuned…
After a little rest, the delegation gathered for a group dinner at about 6:00 pm. We had a large dining room to ourselves…we numbered about 130 which included 37 D-Day and Normandy veterans, each with a caregiver. There was a large VAC team and a large medical team. Also included were 6 MP’s, one senator, 5 representatives of veterans organizations and indigenous groups. I was representing the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada from across the country. There was a reception later in the evening with some members of the Canadian Armed Forces Contingent however I was simply too tired to attend.
Tuesday morning, we were up and had a lovely breakfast. There was a little time for exploration around the grounds or to rest before having a group lunch. We then loaded the buses and departed for Chambois. The day was cloudy but the town was decorated and ready to celebrate “Les Canadiens”. I was so proud of our veterans, the CAF Honour Guard, and our 2 bands (a brass band and a pipe& drum band). Members of the Honour Guard were people from the same regiments who took part in the D-Day landings and the Normandy campaign (so I was told). These young men and women represent the cream of our young service people as did those 75 years ago…The Governor-General arrived to inspect the Guard and take part in the remainder of the ceremony. The heavens opened up and it poured rain but fortunately, our veterans were under a marquee…..Then the sun came out and it became very warm. French school children played an important part of the ceremony. Following the unveiling of the memorial and the ending of the ceremony, a reception was held in a building just down the street. The Gov-Gen attended and she spent time with each and every veteran who was there. They were loving every minute of the attention they were getting from everyone. Did I mention that the youngest veteran was 94 and the oldest was 99? They are an awesome group.
We got loaded back on the buses and went back to the hotel for a group dinner. I must say that we ere well fed and the wine was excellent! I found it amazing that the homes and hotels had no screens…the windows open up but since they don’t seem to have a problem like we do with black flies, mosquitoes, etc., no screens are necessary. The countryside in this part of France, is very much like our St. John River Valley but much flatter and hills to offset the flat farmland. The people are very friendly and most speak English quite well (and a lot better than my limited French).
My next installment will talk about Juno Beach…..stay tuned
We had an early start on June 5th – breakfast at 6:30 am or so. After enjoying the breakfast buffet, we gathered in the lobby to wait for the buses. There were 3 buses in all, each with a VAC team and a medical team. We had the “coolest” bus as we liked to tell the others. After getting settled for another bus ride, we headed for the Juno Beach Centre – a large information and education centre facing the beach area. Wonderful pictures and displays. There were young Canadians staffing it – so pleasant and knowledgeable. I purchased a few souvenirs to take home. There was a lot of activity because of the rehearsals going on for the big ceremony the next day.
After enjoying that tour, we headed off for a group lunch at the La Cremaillere Restaurant on a different part of the beach – right where the Winnipeg Rifles had come ashore 75 years previously. The lunch was delicious. We were seated on a large-windowed dining room facing the beach where we could see several “Duck” craft practicing landings. I believe these were American craft but there were some Canadian crew members as well.
After lunch, it was time to head for Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery where more than 2000 of our war dead are resting. No expense is spared..the grounds are beautiful and peaceful and the stones are immaculate. What struck me most was the number of our heroes there and while wandering around looking at the stones, I lamented at the young ages of most of them….they gave their all in the name of peace. There was a nice ceremony and wreath-laying with many youth taking part – both French and Canadian. Some of these teens had been given a soldier to research, as part of their journey. I saw several sitting cross-legged in front of their particular hero’s stone…in awe, I think. The cloudy, cool weather, along with occasional showers, continues to dog our trip. We then headed back to the buses to depart for our hotel where we enjoyed a group dinner…
Stay tuned for my D-Day + 75 experience…
The day starts off on the right foot…sunny skies at last with just a few clouds. We had a good breakfast and then waited for the buses. By 9:15 am, we departed for Juno Beach. As expected, there was a huge crowd. Our veterans were warmly greeted wherever they went with folks standing and clapping as they were spotted. The ceremony began at noon. I suspect most of you watched it on TV however it was a very proud and emotional time for all of us. I was again pleased that so many youth were involved in the event. It is hard to describe all the emotions of the day…sad, proud, melancholy, excited….At the end of the ceremony, we went down to the beach itself….vintage planes were flying overhead and one of our Canadian ships was on the horizon as we looked out to sea and tried to imagine how our soldiers, sailors, and airmen felt that day. On seeing how exposed they must have been on coming ashore, it is a miracle that so many survived. As it was, we lost more than 350 that fateful day …and many more wounded.
Our veterans felt it all…the years melted away to that day 75 years ago. One took his shoes and socks off, rolled up his pant-legs, and waded into the surf. Some just sat quietly and simply remembered. There were tears, sighs, and prayers. The pipe and drum band was playing. I had taken my Dad’s little diary and his picture to the beach with me and spent some time having a little chat with him in my mind. He was RCN and served on HMCS Algonquin. They were offshore and firing on German positions inland in support of our troops going ashore.
By 3:30 pm, were back on the buses for the 2-hour trip back to the hotel. We enjoyed another fine dinner (did I mention the delicious wines?). Stories were told by our veterans – again, I am awestruck by these 90-something elderly men who were so very young 75 years before when they served our nation with such bravery and determination. So many stories…..all different but with a single purpose.
We had an early night after such an emotional day and to rest up for our next day’s busy schedule. Stay tuned…….
Up at 6:00 am for breakfast and an early start to our day. Once again, we are on our way by bus…Everywhere we go seems to be 2 hours away by bus….We arrive at Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery for a visit and ceremony. It is, I think, one of the largest, if not the largest Canadian War Cemetery in Europe. There are nearly 3000 of our war dead resting here. It is almost overwhelming to see all the headstones standing in their perfect rows, surrounded by beautiful flowers, shrubs, trees and manicured lawns….so peaceful and serene..away from the violence that sent our heroes there. Again, I took pictures of the stones of the men whose names are etched on the monument in Woodstock, NB.
Another ceremony brings the morning to a close. We enjoyed a reception again. Following lunch, we again boarded the buses and headed to the Le Memorial for another ceremony to take part in another event in the Canadian Garden.
Upon leaving there, we were running late so had to cancel one stop in order to go to the Abbaye d’Ardenne where our soldiers were murdered on the orders of Kurt Meyer. A lovely, old place which felt eerie…another solemn ceremony and then back to the buses. and to the hotel for a little rest before our “farewell” dinner in the evening.
We had a beautiful dinner…lots of laughter and singing (perhaps aided by the wine and calvados). Our veterans were tired but were enjoying the evening immensely. Tomorrow is the last day of activity before heading home…
It doesn’t seem possible that our trip is almost over….here we are at the final day of events…breakfast and then check out of the hotel. Our luggage has departed to the hotel in Lille where our last night will be spent.
We are back on the buses and headed for Courseulles-sur-Mer for a parade and ceremony.
It is raining heavily at times and we wear our plastic ponchos again.
The parade and ceremony are colourful in spite of the clouds and showers with a few sunny breaks but the weather has left us behind schedule.
We missed the reception in order to make it to Canada House at Bernieres-sur-Mer. The beautiful old house looks nothing like that old picture we see, taken back on the day of the landings. It is big and well maintained. There is a caretaker family living there….I didn’t tour the inside because of the long line-up but those who did, said it seemed odd to be traipsing through while the mother was making a pot of soup in the kitchen, saying make yourself at home…
Too soon, we are loading on the buses to go on to Lille and check in at the Mercure Lille Airport Hotel. We had a box lunch and a brief rest stop en route. We arrived quite late and, as a result, did not get supper until around 10 pm. I think most of us practically fell into bed…it had been a very busy week. Up early to get our luggage out so they could take it to the plane for our trip back to Canada….
Sunday morning, breakfast, and then back to our buses…Arrived at Lille Airport and then played the waiting game to board our flight back to Canada aboard a Canadian Armed Forces flight. The week had taken its toll on several of our veterans who needed some peace, quiet, and oxygen as we got underway. I must say that that the CAF crews, both going to and coming from France were professional and very nice….they couldn’t do enough for us…
After about 7 hours, we arrived back in Ottawa. Some went to the hotel to spend another night, while some of us were taken to the other airport to await our flights home. Around 9:45 pm (local time), I arrived back in Fredericton and was warmly greeted by my husband (I think he missed me!)
I want to say a few words to some special folks… first of all, I want to thank the Army, Navy & Air Force Veterans in Canada for choosing me to represent them on this awesome trip. It was a great honour!…I can’t say enough about the Veterans Affairs team..they were superb in every way in looking after us before, during, and after the trip….. Patricia and Joanne especially. The medical team consisting of Drs. Nguyen, Richer, and Levitz, nurses Sandy, Rafik, and Martine, and orderlies Marie-Claude, Pamphil, and Paul, all went above and beyond in their care of us all. I wish countless blessings on the WWII veterans who were with me, and to their caregivers. I won’t forget you……
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my “trip of a lifetime”…I will leave you with a few more pictures of some special people…