Monday, 6 June 2011

Honouring our Canadian World War II Normandy dead at Beny-sur-mer Cemetery

6 June 1944: Canadians land at Juno Beach in Normandy
by Tom Thorne
Today is the 67th Anniversary of the allies landing in Normandy. On that day Canadians landed on Juno Beach and began the arduous task of moving inland against determined German opposition. The last time I was in this part of Normandy was in 1996 when my wife and our two youngest children Peter and Alexandra made a trip down the French Atlantic coast on our way to visit friends in Spain. We saw a lot on that trip but the day we spent on and near our Juno Beach landing site left an indelible impression on all of us.
One of the most poignant places you can visit is our Canadian War Cemetery at Beny-sur-mer. It is located on high ground behind Juno. A veteran of that time, and the father of one of our closest friends landed several days after 6 June with his engineering unit. His initial task he told me was to put in Bailey Bridges on the way to Caen. That job was truncated because of the intense action going on in front of Caen and so this engineering unit was given a new task.
The new job was to quickly layout the Beny-sur-mer Cemetery site so the burial of our Canadian dead could start. It was needed. The bodies that had been brought back from the front were lying in an adjacent field and the smell of decomposition was overwhelming.
Our friend’s father began to layout the cemetery and as fast has it was laid out the bodies were placed in their graves. A solemn moment. Years later, when this engineering officer was attending a senior officer Staff College he went out on a Normandy tour with the people on his course. When they got to Beny-sur-mer their tour bus pulled up in front of the gate. The tour guide said: “This is a Canadian War cemetery, we won’t have time to get out and see it.” Then the tour bus quickly drove off and Colonel Leslie Brown never got to see the place he laid out with his engineering platoon in 1944.
Years later, while at a funeral reception for his wife, Colonel Brown and I got to talking because we were about to go on our trip to Normandy. That’s when I got this story you have just read. I told him I would take photos of the Beny-sur-mer and bring them back for him.  I did just that.
Resources: A short YouTube video

Honour roll of Canadian D-Day dead.

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, Please copy this item 

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