The 75th anniversary of a pivotal episode in our history: D-Day

Background photo: Troops of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade (Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders) going ashore from LCI (L) 299 [Landing Craft Infantry], Bernières-sur-mer, Normandy, France, 6 June 1944. Photo: Gilbert Alexander Milne/Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada / a122765. Inset photos: Jan De Vries (Juno Beach Centre/JdVries); Adrien Boivin (Juno Beach Centre/A. Boivin); Louis-Philippe Leblanc ((Juno Beach Centre/LP Leblanc). Graphic by Shereen Ellaboudy, Army Public Affairs. ***Photo d'arrière-plan: Troupes de la 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade (Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders) débarquant du LCI (L) 299 [Landing Craft Infantry], Bernières-sur-mer, Normandie, France, 6 juin 1944. Photo : Gilbert Alexander Milne / Canada. Ministère de la défense nationale / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / a122765. Photos en médaillon: Jan De Vries (Centre Juno Beach / JdVries); Adrien Boivin (Centre Juno Beach / A. Boivin); Louis-Philippe Leblanc (Centre Juno Beach / LP Leblanc). Graphic by Shereen Ellaboudy, Army Public Affairs.

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By Brigadier-General M.A.J. Carignan, Commander 2nd Canadian Division and Joint Task Force (East)

Montreal, Quebec — The Normandy landing on June 6, 1944 during the Second World War was, without a doubt, one of the major military operations of the 20th century. It marked the international community, Canada and its Armed Forces. We have a moral duty to remember and commemorate it and to honour our soldiers and our veterans who distinguished themselves during that operation. In all, some 45,000 Canadians lost their lives in the Second World War.

In Operation OVERLORD, more than 150,000 Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy. About 14,000 of them were Canadian.

During the night of June 5 to 6, more than 450 members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion were dropped inland a few hours before the landing. They were soldiers of unsurpassed courage, like Jan de Vries: wounded by a sniper in July 1944, he returned to combat in September of that year. Later in his life, Jan became a founding member of the Juno Beach Centre, the Canadian museum located on the Normandy beach where the landing took place, created by veterans and their families.

On D-Day, the Canadians were responsible for taking Juno Beach, an 8 kilometre stretch of coastline fronting the villages of Graye-sur-Mer, Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, located between Gold Beach and Sword Beach. The Canadians came ashore under perilous conditions, facing agitated seas, enemy fire, and mines covered by the rising tide.

Amongst our veterans who proudly participated in the landing is Adrien Boivin, whose French ancestors came from Normandy. He joined the Régiment de la Chaudière, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. In October 1944, he was captured by the Germans. Back in Canada after the war, he rose through the ranks from private to lieutenant-colonel. From 1962 to 1967, he commanded the Régiment du Saguenay, before becoming that unit’s Honorary Colonel.

Another was Louis-Philippe Leblanc, who also landed with the Régiment de la Chaudière, then fought at Carpiquet and Caen before being seriously injured by shrapnel on 18 July 1944.

During the landing on June 6, 1944, 359 Canadian soldiers lost their lives, and more than 5,500 died during the following two and a half months of fighting in Normandy. Today, the majority of those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice are resting in peace in the Canadian war cemeteries in Bretteville-sur-Laize and Bény-sur-Mer. More than 13,000 of our soldiers were wounded in Normandy, sustaining physical and psychological injuries.

It is important to remember the participation of Indigenous Peoples in the Second World War: 3,000 Indigenous soldiers served, and 17 of them were decorated for acts of bravery. Also noteworthy is women’s participation: almost 4,500 nurses served with the Canadian military, more than two-thirds of them overseas. On June, 1944, Dorothy Irene Mulholland and Winnifred “Pit” Pitkethly were among the first women to join the Allied offensive in Normandy, where they set up a field hospital to tend to the injured.

The courage, determination and selflessness of our Canadian soldiers during the Normandy landing are a continuing source of inspiration and pride for all of us. We pay homage to all Canadian soldiers who participated in that momentous operation which played a role in shaping our history.

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