France, Travel
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The memorial sculpture “Remembrance and Renewal” by Canadian artist Colin Gibson outside the  Juno Beach Centre.

Juno Beach

A stretch of Juno Beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer. It was hard to imagine this peaceful beach as a battleground.

As a bit of a WW2 history buff I was super excited to head up to Normandy during our first road trip last weekend. This area is littered with museums, attractions, cemeteries, etc., all commemorating the D-Day invasion and the Allied push through France, the low countries and into Western Germany in the final year of the Second World War. Realizing that dragging Lesley and the kids from one historic site to another wasn’t going to happen, we settled on going to Juno Beach, the site of the landing of Canadian forces during the D-Day invasion. Compromises eh!

We ended up staying in a small apartment in Langrune-sur-Mer, just east of St. Aubin-sur-Mer. It was pretty surreal to spend our days soaking up sun, playing and swimming on these stretches of beaches that had such a history.

Our first glimpse of Juno Beach, so meaningful to have visited here.

Oli and I checking out where it all went down!

“Juno Beach”, one of 5 landing sectors on D-Day, is a 6 mile stretch of Normandy coastline running from the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer to the village of St. Aubin-sur-Mer. Originally the codename of this landing sector was to be “Jelly”, but this was changed after the objection of Winston Churchill, who felt that he couldn’t send men to die on beach with such a childish name. The name was changed to Juno.

St. Aubin Plaque

A plaque at St. Aubin-sur-Mer commemorating the Canadians of the “North Shore” regiment that landed on D-Day.

The first Canadian forces landing on the beach on June 6th, 1944 were from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, backed up by elements of the 2nd Armoured Brigade with their “DD”, dual drive amphibious Sherman tanks. Facing them on the beaches were two brigades from the German 716th Infantry Division, dug in along numerous defensive fortifications that lined the Juno sector.

Cozy's Bunker

“Cozy’s Bunker”- One of many German defensive features that still line the beaches along Juno.

50mm Anti-Tank Gun

A 50mm German anti-tank gun at St. Aubin-sur-Mer. This gun knocked out 4 Canadian Shermans before being taken by the North Shore Regiment.

The Canadians landed at around 7:30 in the morning after a heavy air and naval bombardment.   They faced pretty stiff resistance from the Germans, as the air and naval bombardment had mixed results. Heavy casualties were taken by the initial landing parties but by late morning the German defences were breached and the Canadians began to push inland. Reserve forces began landing as early as 8:30am and by days end 20,000 Canadians and Brits had landed on Juno.

The Cross of the Free French, near Juno Beach Centre, marking where Charles du Galle landed on the beach.

The Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French Forces, near Juno Beach Centre, marking where Charles du Galle landed on the beach.

When operations ceased at 11pm on the first day of the D-Day landings, the Canadians of the 3rd Infantry Division had moved farther inland than any other Allied landing force.

It was great to visit and explore a site that I have wanted to see for so long, and one that has an important historic meaning. I think even Lesley and the kids enjoyed sucking up some history while they sucked up the sun. Maybe this bodes well to convince them to check out some more historic war sites! Fingers crossed!

– Derek


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