Its Saturday April 1, 1600 hrs and after a long 8 hour flight from Canada and waiting at the Charles de Gaulie Airport until the rest of the flights have landed, the 8 + 1 members of The 56th Field Regiment finally have arrived in Normandy on our way to visit Juno Beach and the Juno Beach Center. Upon arrival we depart the bus in awe as we take in beautiful view that is Juno Beach. It’s hard to believe that some 73 years ago Juno Beach was one of five beaches of the Allied invasion of German occupied France in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 during WW2.
The beach spanned from Courselles, a village just east of the British beach Gold, to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, just west of the British beach Sword. Taking Juno was the responsibility of the Canadian Army, with sea transport, mine sweeping, and a naval bombardment force provided by the Royal Canadian Navy and the British Royal Navy as well as elements from the Free French, Norwegian, and other Allied navies. The objectives of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on D-Day were to cut the Caen-Bayeux road, seize the Carpiquet airport west of Caen, and form a link between the two British beaches of Gold and Sword on either side of Juno Beach. The beach was defended by two battalions of the German 716th Infantry Division, with elements of the 21st Panzer Division held in reserve near the town of Caen. The 3rd Canadian Division’s D-Day objectives were to capture Carpiquet Airfield and reach the Caen–Bayeux railway line by nightfall.
The landings initially encountered heavy resistance from the German 716th Division; the preliminary bombardment proved less effective than had been hoped, and rough weather forced the first wave to be delayed until 07:35. Several assault companies—notably those of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada—took heavy casualties in the opening minutes of the first wave. Strength of numbers, as well as coordinated fire support from artillery and armored squadrons, cleared most of the coastal defenses within two hours of landing. The reserves of the 7th and 8th brigades began deploying at 08:30 (along with the Royal Marines), while the 9th Brigade began its deployment at 11:40.
The subsequent push inland towards Carpiquet and the Caen–Bayeux railway line achieved mixed results. The sheer numbers of men and vehicles on the beaches created lengthy delays between the landing of the 9th Brigade and the beginning of substantive attacks to the south. The 7th Brigade encountered heavy initial opposition before pushing south and making contact with the British 50th Division at Creully. The 8th Brigade encountered heavy resistance from a battalion of the 716th at Tailleville, while the 9th Brigade deployed towards Carpiquet early in the evening. Resistance in Saint-Aubin prevented the Royal Marines from establishing contact with the British 3rd Division on Sword. When all operations on the Anglo-Canadian front were ordered to halt at 21:00, by which time The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada had reached its D-Day objective, and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division had succeeded in pushing farther inland than any other landing force on D-Day.
We next visit the “Canada House – Maison des Canadiens ” or what it was originally called “Maison de Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada” is one of the most iconic buildings in Canadian military history. It was one of the first houses liberated by Canadian soldiers on D-Day, 6 June 1944, and has since become a familiar historic landmark, standing in the backdrop of the many black-and-white photographs showing troops landing on the sands of this village in Normandy. History says that The Queens Own Rifles liberated this house 20 minutes after they landed at Juno Beach its is said that more than 100 Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded in the first minutes of the invasion.
On the House are three plaques: one to the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, one to The Fort Garry Horse and finally one to the Régiment de la Chaudière.
It was amazing to stand to stand in the same spot as these soldiers during this assault; as i stood out on the beach and stared out into the water, I tried to imagine what was going through the minds of the men who fought on this exact spot. Were they scared? Or was there adrenaline to high to be scared? Were they afraid to die? If i were in their spot at this exact moment I couldn’t imagine not knowing if i would see my kids and family again. You cannot determine what is going to happen to you that very next minute, 3o mins or 3 hours later.