Article written by Corporal Nakhornsima Mai
Westmount, Quebec – 25 June 2019: Corporal John Tobas and I have had the unique opportunity to represent The Royal Montreal Regiment as part of the Canadian contingent to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, Normandy and to honor our beloved veterans and those who have paid the ultimate price to fight for the greater good of Nations worldwide. Lest we remember them.
The 6th of June 1944 marked the beginning of the end of World War II, it was on that day that the largest combined military operation in history to date commenced and within 3 months France would be liberated in almost its entirety. That liberation came at no small cost and the efforts of the Canadians were stupendous. On D-day, 359 Canadians were killed and in the following 3 months, over 5,000 Canadians were killed. Their sacrifices were not forgotten as they are commemorated by many memorials, cenotaphs and war cemeteries in the region of Normandy. The two biggest being Beny-sur-Mer and Bretteville-sur-Laize. Both of which we have had the chance to both visit and parade in as ceremonies were held distinctly in those two locations.
The first Canadian Military cemetery we visited was the Beny-sur Mer Canadian War cemetery. There lay in rest 335 Canadian soldiers of the Division killed on June 6th 1944 along with 1,694 Canadian soldiers that would later fall in battle. Alongside them were 3 British soldiers and a lone French soldier. We had the chance to walk in the cemetery briefly and pay our respects to our fallen brothers in arms before the parade practice began. On the tombstone, I recognized all the units that are familiar to me, the Fusiliers de Mont-Royal, the Black Watch of Canada, the Canadian Grenadier Guards, the Regiment de Maisonneuve, alongside the familiar ones I discovered new regiments of Canada from coast to coast through the friendship we have built on this journey such as the Essex Scottish Regiment of Canada and the Queen’s Own Rifles. What astonished me the most aside from sheer loss of lives were the ages of these young men! Many of them were in their teens, 16 year old and onward and when they weren’t they were in their early twenties. I could not imagine the courage it would take for a young man to take up arms and fight for his countries, fight for freedom and fight for love. It was breathtaking and inspiring to see the dedication and willingness to sacrifice everything to cross an ocean to liberate people they do not know.
The second Canadian Military cemetery was Brettevile-sur-Laize Canadian War cemetery were rest 2,782 Canadians, 80 British, 4 Australian and 1 New Zealander soldier. The cemetery is also the resting of one young soldier native of Quebec, Private Gerard Doré, who served with the Fusiliers de Mont-Royal. I encourage everyone to look up this young man’s history as he embodies the fighting spirit of all his fallen brothers. Unfortunately, Gerard Doré was better known as the youngest soldier who died in the field of battle at the young age of 16 on July 23rd 1944, one month before his 17th birthday of August 29 1944. We were witness to a powerful event. The remains of formerly unknown Canadian soldier now identified as Sgt. John Albert Collis was interred on the parade ceremony on June 7th 2019, his families and relatives assisted the event. To close off the ceremony a D-day Veteran, Charles Scot Brown, left a powerful message. “It is foolish to mourn the loss of lives and sacrifices these men made, instead be happy that such men have lived.”
The culmination of this trip happened at Juno Beach, the location of D-Day. It was quite an emotional spectacle seeing all these D-Day Veterans stand up for us as soon as we walked on parade despite some of them not being able to or are bound in a wheelchair, you could see their fighting spirit pierce through their now old bodies, seeing their smiles and their joy. There was a certain satisfaction in their smiles as one Veteran later said to our platoon Warrant that he can’t speak for everyone but he can speak for his fallen brothers, that they would be proud and happy to see us. Our platoon Warrant had the chance to speak with some of the D-day Veterans and left a unique coin that was given to every member of the Canadian contingent to one of them. That particular Veteran grabbed the Warrant by his arm and told him to relay us the following message: “Please let them know, they were our favorite part of the show by far.” The Warrant responded: “Yes, of course I will.” As the Warrant was about to leave, the Veteran grasped his arm firmly and did not let go and pierced his gaze and said: “Please Warrant, make sure you do.” One thing to take away from this whole trip, this will probably be the last time these Veterans will get to come to Juno.