What I’m bringing with me to Juno Beach

John Horgan
Jun 5, 2019 · 4 min read
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Canadian soldiers landing at Juno on the outskirts of Bernières. Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives Canada [Public domain].

Years ago, during a family vacation to Europe, I found myself standing on Juno Beach in France. My feet planted on the sand, I watched the waves wash up and fall back into the sea.

I pictured the blue water obscured by boats as thousands of soldiers stormed the shore under heavy gunfire. My eyes filled with tears.

At the time, my kids didn’t understand why I was so emotional.

Standing in the same place where so many Canadians had sacrificed their lives, I was overcome with grief and gratitude.

June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. On this day in 1944, 359 Canadian soldiers lost their lives. The Second World War took over 45,000 Canadian lives. For those who survived, many returned with scars both visible and invisible.

I am humbled to return to Juno Beach on behalf of the province to pay our respects to the British Columbians who served in the Second World War, including Chinese Canadians, South Asian Canadians, Black and Indigenous soldiers who fought to preserve our democracy even while they were denied the right to vote. Japanese-Canadian veterans were prevented from participating because of discriminatory treatment throughout the Second World War. Through their sacrifice and the advocacy of these communities, Canada extended civil rights to all Canadians and our province is stronger because of their actions.

Two B.C. regiments were among the Canadians who landed on Juno Beach on D-Day — the Canadian Scottish Regiment of Victoria, and the British Columbia Regiment of Vancouver.

Over the past month leading up to D-Day, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some B.C. based veterans with extraordinary stories.

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Petty Officer Alice Adams is presented with a commemorative plaque at a Hometown Heroes event at Fort Rodd Hill.

People like Alice Adams of Victoria who was one of the 50,000 Canadian women who served in uniform during the Second World War. Alice was a member of the Canadian Naval Intelligence Service and was drafted to open a station at Coverdale, NB, which intercepted and recorded German naval messages to safeguard convoys.

I have met men like Frank Poole. In January 1945, Frank’s RCAF Halifax Heavy Bomber was shot down. Of his seven-man crew, only two survived. As he parachuted to solid ground, Frank lost his right boot. He formed a makeshift shoe to avoid getting frostbite and set off through the dark countryside where he was captured by Germans. He spent over two months in a prisoner of war camp until liberation in April 1945.

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Meeting George Chow, who was part of the All-Canadian gunners that shot down the first German plane on English soil.

George Chow will be part of the delegation to France on June 6. Two months before George’s 19th birthday, he went to the recruiting centre at the Bay Street Armoury in Victoria to enlist without his parent’s knowledge. George fought on Juno Beach on D-Day and lived to continue serving Canada for many more years.

Each of these veteran’s stories is unique, but they also represent thousands of similar, shared experiences. They represent an entire generation that was shaped by the triumphs and horrors of war.

As I stand on Juno Beach on June 6, I will proudly wear a pin that was given to me by the Canadian Scottish Regiment and I will carry a plaque, given to me by Legion Manor Victoria. This pin and plaque signify the stories that live inside Alice, Frank and George, and veterans just like them. It will remind me of our history, where we’ve come from, and why it is so important to remember.

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(L-R) Veterans Fred Seeley, Bob Sear, George Chow, June Illet, Ken Brind, John Belsky, Franke Poole, and Rudi Hoenson having tea at Government House.

The sacrifices made by those during the war must never be forgotten. As poet and philosopher George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

With the rise of racism and intolerance in North America and around the world, it is more important than ever to learn from our history, stand together against hate, and commit to building a more peaceful world.

My kids are now grown. When they think of our trip to Juno Beach years ago, they understand the depth of human suffering and what was at stake during World War II, and why I was overcome with emotion that day.

What veteran’s stories teach us is that the human spirit always wins out. Standing up for what’s right — democracy, freedom and human rights — is their legacy that we must carry forward.

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