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Dec. 8, 2019 | Sunday
Editorials and Opinions
Memories from the beaches of Normandy
The Canadian Cemetery in Normandy. NOTL resident Rene Bertschi visited the beaches of Normandy several times over the years that he lived in Germany. (Supplied/Rene Bertschi)

Rene Bertschi

Special to The Lake Report

During my years of living in Germany from 1991 to 2011, I had the opportunity several times to visit the Normandy coast to see what the Allied forces had to overcome to storm the beaches on D-Day.

On one of those visits, I had a most humbling experience.

On a dull, cloud-covered day, I sat beside a Second World War veteran from Canada and listened to him recount his experiences from that memorable day in June 1944.

Seated in his wheelchair, looking out over the sand dunes at Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed, he told me that his son brings him there every year as long as he is still alive and can move.

He quietly sits by the seaside and remembers his friends and many others who did not make it back to their loved ones.

That father and son will be in my mind and memories forever.

Standing on the various landing sites and walking on the beaches of Normandy, you feel and appreciate the difficulties those soldiers encountered as they stormed ashore and had to run on the sand or gravel stone beaches.

Dodging bullets, with 50-pound packs on their backs limiting their progress, they needed to get away from the German firing line and to the safety of the sand dunes.

The bravery exhibited by these young men is breathtaking and, as we know, many never made it home.

The Canadian Army casualties for the Juno sector (which includes the beach and the advance inland) totalled 340 Canadians killed, 574 wounded, and 47 captured for a total of 961 young soldiers.

Another important reason I encourage people to travel the Normandy coast is the opportunity to visit the museums and the towns that were part of the invasion.

When the residents there learn you are a Canadian, they welcome you with open arms. So proudly wear your Canadian flag.

Canada’s museum at Juno Beach is one of the places you should not miss. Perched overlooking the dunes and the sea where Canadians came ashore, surrounded by kiosks bearing hundreds of small plaques commemorating men and women who fought for Canada, the Juno Beach Centre is a treasure trove of information and memories of the war.

Photographs from Normandy bring back many emotions.

When I see a picture of the cemeteries of all the countries that were involved – not only the Allied tombstones, but also the German graves – it is a strong reminder that so many young lives perished that day, June 6, 1944, and in the weeks afterward.

So, on Nov. 11, and at other times throughout the year, it is imperative that we remember the sacrifices of our veterans from conflicts long past, as well as those who today continue to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.

May we never forget.

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