18.05.2013 - 18.05.2013 10 °C
We visited Juno Beach Centre today, and remembered the war a little earlier than usual. As we approached the centre, we saw several large concrete blocks covered in plaques standing out front. Each one held the name of a soldier, and each one had been paid for by family members, friends, schools, and organizations that wished to commemorate those who had fought for our country. We saw numerous names and dates and hometowns, as well as the wars they had fought in. There were many for WWII, of course, especially for those that had fought or died on D-Day. But there were plaques for those who had fought in the first world war as well, and even for some who had fought in both. More recently, there were the names of those who were and perhaps are in Afghanistan.
Inside the centre, we were greeted by a couple friendly Canadians. It turns out that all six of the staff working at the Juno Beach Centre are Canadian, and that every four months another six come in from across the pond to replace them. One of the girls was even from Victoria. It seems like a pretty great university summer job, if you ask me.
The museum was laid out in such a way that you walked through the events leading up to, during, and after the war chronologically, so that the story of World War II unfolded as you progressed. Uniforms, guns, canteens, mess tins, and other possessions belonging to soldiers, marines and pilots fighting in the war were dotted along the exhibition. Propaganda posters with loud colours and enthusiastic slogans intermingled with accounts of training camps, sailing over the Atlantic, and manning the front line.
There were a number of videos playing, each one of Canadian veterans, both English and French, telling their stories and sharing the lessons they had learned. A couple of their tales made me laugh, including the one where a shipment of rubber boots had come in, and the soldiers found that they were all left footed. Some of the others were more sober, to say the least. Each veteran had something important to say about what they had gleaned from their time fighting in the war, and in the years that followed. Don't go back to war. Remember that ours is not a militant country. Life is beautiful and worth preserving.
After the museum, we took a brief tour of the underground bunker and Juno Beach. Our tour guide was perhaps less than dazzling in his delivery, but I'm pegging that down to the fact that he'd just started the job a week ago. Plus he gave it in two languages, which is impressive. Juno Beach is eight kilometres long, though we could only see four from where we stood. Apparently when the first soldiers had landed on the beach, the tide had been way out as well, so they had to cover a considerable amount of ground before they had any hope of avoided the bullets hailing down on them. It didn't feel like a place where hundreds of people had been brutally injured or lost their lives.
Before we headed back home, we stopped at a WWII cemetery where over 2000 Canadian soldiers had been buried. There are also four British graves and one French one. The site was beautiful, set next to a small greenspace where six towering maple trees stood. The headstones were clean and well kept up, and each one was engraved with a maple leaf. Many had personalised messages and Bible verses as well. We could tell that some of the graves had been visited, as small Canadian flags had been planted next to the markers. It was nice to see the flags and the maple trees and remember Canadians, even though the visit was tinged with the sadness of remembering such a tragedy. Today was a memorable experience, one I'll be sure not to forget whether it's November 11th or not.