Our last stop on the Normandy trip was Juno beach – the Canadian beach. Unlike the other beaches, no monument to the Canadian effort existed until June, 2003, when the Juno Beach Center was inaugurated:
The Centre was conceived in the 1990s by a group of Canadian veterans who felt that the contributions and sacrifices of Canadian soldiers during the liberation of Europe were not properly commemorated and represented in the Normandy region. The project, spearheaded by veteran Garth Webb and his companion Lise Cooper, began initially as a grassroots fundraising campaign that eventually gained the financial support of many institutions and businesses and the Canadian and French governments at many levels. The Centre was inaugurated on 6 June, 2003. Over one thousand Canadian veterans attended the inauguration in 2003, as well as the 2004 ceremony for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
The center is very well done. Outside are plaques from towns across Canada, we found the City of Barrie:
The center covers the entire war, with one interactive display kicking it off. You stand/sit in a room that is built like a landing craft and watch the famous video Juno beach video. Very moving.
As we wandered through the center, you remember how a small nation contributed broadly to the war effort with many battles almost forgotten. For instance, I never knew that Canada served with the British in Hong Kong:
The beach itself looks flat and open, but history tells us that it was not a nice place to be landing:
Juno was the second most heavily defended of the five landing sites chosen. General Wilhelm Richter was in charge of the 716th Division guarding the beach, with 11 heavy batteries of 155 mm guns and 9 medium batteries of 75 mm guns at his disposal. Additionally, pillboxes and other fortifications were present all along the beach, most heavily concentrated in the Courseulles-sur-Mer region. The seawall was twice the height of Omaha Beach’s, and the sea was heavily mined.
But the remnants are still there.
After travelling up and down the beach, we headed into the town and stopped at a little river side café to enjoy mussels and seafood. Nothing beats a seaside café on a sunny day. As I looked over at the fishing boats, I was fooled by this optical illusion and commented to the boys:
‘Hey look, they must have taken that boat apart to fix it. That is quite a load to keep in place while fixing. I wonder why they are doing it in the water?’ (LOL … it is 2 boats).
And with that, we made our final stop at the grave of Ross Ellsmere and then headed home. A historic place well worth visiting and remembering.