With the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, I thought it was only fitting to write about a book that details the Canadian effort on that infamous day. Juno-Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944 is one such book. I actually read this book a few years ago, but often find myself referencing it from time to time as it is filled with details, facts and personal accounts of the Canadians that served on the fateful day.
Author Ted Barris, weaves together an accurate and vivid account through the numerous interviews and written testimonies of actual D-Day veterans. Barris pays particular attention to the days leading up to Operation Neptune (the codename for the actual invasion day; Operation Overlord was the codename for the larger invasion of Nazi occupied France) and provides insight into the days and weeks that followed . Browse the Military History section of any bookstore and you will find plenty of books on the American account of that day – the storming of the beaches at Normandy. Even the names of the US beaches are likely familiar to most, Utah and Omaha. But few likely know the significant contribution of the Canadians and their assigned beach: Juno.
In very simple terms, there were five invasion points that day. The Americans would land at the beaches codenamed Utah and Omaha, the British beaches were codenamed Sword and Gold, and the Canadians, they would get Juno. As Barris recounts, one amusing story holds that the British decided to name the Commonwealth beaches after fish, originally with the code names Sword(fish), Gold(fish) and Jelly(fish). Well, fortunately for history’s sake the Canadians thought the codename Jelly, sounded, well, a little hokey and suggested Juno instead. And I’m glad they did.
What I like the most about this book is how Barris provides varying perspectives on that day; from the infantry men of Le Regiment de la Chaudieres and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, to the sailors aboard MTB’s (motor torpedo boats) charged with protecting the flotilla of over 7000 vessels preparing to cross the English channel. He includes first-hand accounts from numerous RCAF airmen, few of whom were older than 25 on D-Day, and accounts from soldiers aboard X-Crafts; mini-subs that were quietly off the shore of Normandy providing reconnaissance in the days before June 6th. He also captures the experience of the media who were embedded to report on the actions of that day, even including a picture of the CBC’s first “mobile” media van (with no satellite tower in sight!) Even the book’s cover picture (which is actually a screen shot) is particularly significant, as it is the only moving film of Canadians actually landing at Juno beach that survived the conditions and chaos of the day.
Perhaps one of the more amusing stories that Barris includes comes from naval sub-lieutenant Scott Young, who discovered a tired and weary homing pigeon with a tiny canister strapped to it’s leg that had landed aboard the HMCS Mayflower. Instructed to bring the bird to the local army headquarters when they arrived in Arromanches, the exhausted bird barely moved and never pooped during the remaining journey across the Channel. Once at the headquarters, Young was impressed with the scene, top-secret maps lined the walls and the high-ranking officials where eager to see the contents of the tiny canister. As Barris describes, “Whether the pigeon was excited about being brought out into the light or the skipper gripped the bird too tightly, Young has never been sure, but the bird let fly several days’ worth of pigeon manure. It spattered the officers, it blotched the maps, it sprayed everything and everyone in the room. ” He goes on to say that Young didn’t wait around to find out what the canister contained.
Barris concludes the book with the chronicling of the grass roots effort to build a memorial to those Canadian soldiers who came ashore on that beach, both the ones who survived and the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice. Begun in 1995 with a modest goal, it evolved into a truly remarkable tribute that would include a visitors centre, gift shop and memorial sculpture.
So as we reflect upon the enormity of that day some 70 years ago, let’s not forget the brave soldiers who landed on Juno beach.