Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pilgrimage of Remembrance, 2013 – Part III by Roy Toomey

So what do museum staff members do when they go on vacation? One of our education programmers, who is a military history enthusiast, went to visit some World War sites in Europe. This blog is the final part of his personal account of what it meant to him.
After Vimy Ridge, we headed for Normandy, France.  World War I was over for us, but World War II was just beginning.  Our first stop was Dieppe.  At the beaches, it became obvious why Dieppe was a failure.  Steep slopes and loose, slippery gravel make it difficult to even walk.  High cliffs still littered with bunkers and pillboxes surround the beaches, especially at Blue Beach: perfect vantage points from which the Germans could repel the Canadians.
View of Blue Beach from front of German bunker
Dan and I left Dieppe, and moved on to Juno Beach, Canada’s own D-Day landing.  The length of Juno Beach is staggering; about eight kilometres!  Five Canadian regiments were spread out across the beach that day.  German defences were formidable, with machine guns, artillery, and fortifications placed at very regular intervals.  Seeing this in person, it’s a wonder the Canadians succeeded at all on D-Day, yet they made it further inland, and achieved more of their objectives, than the British or the Americans!
View of part of Juno from German pillbox
The museum, memorials, and preserved defences along Juno are excellent, and the cemeteries in Normandy are powerful reminders of the aftermath of war.  We visited the Abbaye d’Ardennes, and stayed at the grand Chateau d’Audrieu.  During World War II, these sites saw mass executions of Canadian POWs by the 12th SS.  The 12th SS murdered about 150 Canadians in Normandy.  Standing on the actual sites of these war crimes was sad and surreal.
Juno Beach bunker and centre
Chateau d'Audrieu
We left our car in Caen, France, one of the cities my grandfather was in while serving in World War II.  We took the train from Caen to Paris, and then flew home.  The trip was about nine days.  It was a great adventure, but really could have been longer.  It truly was the pilgrimage we had hoped for.  We paid our respects as best we could, and did our small part to honour the thousands of Canadians who sacrificed their lives for Canada, and for freedom and democracy, in two World Wars.  I strongly urge all Canadians to make a similar trip!  I hope you enjoyed these past few blog entries, and thank you for allowing me to share my experiences with you.

If you would like to see more of Roy's trip, please visit Roy's personal Flickr page. Stay tuned for Roy's next blog about his experience researching the Korean War for the Musée Héritage Museum.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Roy for putting this blog together, it was fun to walk through our Pilgramage once again.

    Dieppe was by far the most difficult day of the trip. Unfortunately, being at the beaches raises more questions than answers, and adds to my anger that 900 or so Canadians were sacrificed in the raid. I will admit that I am not educated in military schooling, and that my military experience is limited to that of an amateur historian who never served, but standing there on the beaches, looking at the advantages the germans had, I can not concieve how educated "experts" could have considered the raid as designed to have had any chance of success. Make no mistake, our boys were sent to the slaughter by commanders who knew the cost would be very, very high...

    In contrast, the arrival at Juno beach was a refreshing and recharging blast of positivity. Here was victory. Here was proper planning and support, and here was the point where Canadian forces started the most successfull effort of the D-Day landings. The Juno center is a must see, I highly reccomend that anyone making a pilgramage to this location provide themselves with a few hours to visit.

    The Abbaye d’Ardennes is another must see for Canadians visitng Normandy. As sad as it is, it is a place of remembrance. The garden itself is quite nice, and contrasts starkly with the sinister history associated with the site. Something that must never be forgotten.

    Roy and I were very lucky on our pilgramage. The weather was great, we had no major obstacles or difficulties, and we were able to see 95% of what we had hoped for. We spent months planning the trip (down a 15 minute schedule at some points), and i'm proud to say we executed our plan with true Canadian determination. While this degree of planning may not be necessary to all, I still would echo Roys encouragement that people consider a trip such as this. Either plan it yourself or join a tour. It is a trip you will never forget. I am allready looking forward to (and planning for) our return...