June 6, 1944, is a day that will forever be cemented in the annals of history.
14,000 Canadians landed on Juno Beach in northern France and took part in the largest seaborne invasion in recorded history. On that day, Canadian soldiers and their allies were able to establish a foothold in Europe from which they could not only liberate an entire continent, but also change the course of history.
After the Allies were forced to retreat from the mainland at the Battle of Dunkirk, Western Europe was completely occupied by Nazi Germany. It took years of planning and months of effort before the sixth day in June was decided on as the day for them to return.
The Royal Canadian Navy provided 109 vessels and over 10,000 sailors as its contribution to the vast armada of 7,000 Allied vessels that set sail for Normandy. The 3rd Canadian Division landed on Juno Beach and played their role in allowing the allied nations to bring an end to one of the darkest chapters in human history.
“D-Day was important because the entire continent was overrun; every country in Europe was under occupation or subject to pressures from Nazi Germany,” said Clarence Schneider, local historian and secretary of the Kamloops Royal Canadian Legion.
“Our people went the furthest inland on D-Day…which gives you an idea of the tenacity of Canadians.”
Schneider recently returned from the 70th anniversary celebration of the end of the Second World War in Europe with insights into how Europeans remember Canada’s contribution to the war effort.
“Every little kid in Holland is taught what Canadians did…A schoolchild goes to every grave and puts flowers down in front of it,” said Schneider, also noting that in Holland, and throughout Europe, the efforts of Canadian soldiers are commemorated and celebrated.
“We are very well placed in the minds of the Dutch people…That’s not to say that other countries aren’t thankful, even the people right off Juno Beach, when our soldiers landed there they were hailed as heroes.”
Schneider also spoke of the hospitality Europeans have shown Canadians touring the battlefields of the Second World War.
“I’ve heard of cases where [Canadians] are taken into people’s homes, where nobody speaks English, but that’s how they feel. That’s what they think they should be doing.”
Juno Beach is much different today than it was on June 6, 1944, but it is still a hotspot for Canadians interested in paying homage to the sacrifice of our fighting men.
“If you ever see a picture of the landing at Juno Beach, there’s these big huge buildings, hotels, right in front of it,” said Schneider. The hotel that towered over the Canadian soldiers who stormed Juno Beach is now a beach resort that, upon Schneider’s last visit to the beach, was “draped in Canadiana.”
It is important for Canadians to follow the example of the gratitude and reverence shown by Europeans from liberated countries. Many Canadian soldiers never returned from the beaches of Normandy and other European battlefields, making the ultimate sacrifice.