In June, Blair Moro, 16, of Surrey, B.C., and Solange Saulnier, 17, of Haut-Rivière-du-Portage, N.B., represented the youth of Canada on the Veterans Affairs Canada pilgrimage marking the 65th anniversary of D-Day. The journey and the connections they made with veterans were life-changing experiences for the two Youth Ambassadors from the Encounters with Canada program.
by Blair Moro
Travelling to France and attending the 65th anniversary of D-Day was an experience of a lifetime. It was a journey that not only affected me, but many other people. Being with the war veterans was very educational; they told many stories about where they had been during the invasion on D-Day. One such story was about two jeeps on a landing craft. The landing craft struck a mine and was sinking. Both jeeps were able to get off the craft, but the lead jeep hit a mine and exploded, killing all the men on it. The second jeep took another path and made it to the beach. The storyteller was on this second Jeep.
The weeks leading up to the trip were very interesting because I spent that time researching a soldier who died on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The soldier’s name was William Adnett Smith of Rainy River, Ont. At age 19, he moved to Cloverdale, B.C. He married and had three boys, Buddy, Bobby and Barry. His family called him Addy and he enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1942. He went over to England in 1943 and the following year was put on as a rifleman and became part of Operation Overlord.
According to my research, Addy was on one of the first landing crafts to arrive at Juno Beach on the morning of June 6. His buddy, Murray, was with him. They landed in deep water and Murray was too short to touch the bottom, so Addy helped him until he could reach the sandy bottom. After a few more steps Murray turned around to look for Addy, and saw him floating face down. Murray dragged Addy behind him until an officer told him to leave him and get to shore. I discovered that Addy was killed by machine-gun fire, and is buried at Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Normandy.
During my trip to France as part of the Veterans Affairs Canada delegation I visited the grave of Addy Smith. Being in the cemetery gave me an eerie feeling because I knew there were so many Canadian soldiers buried there. Going to the grave was very emotional because I had researched his whole life and had even had a chance to meet one of his sons and talk with other members of his family. I was given a few words that Barry, his son, wanted me to say at the grave, and I decided to put those words onto a plaque which I placed and left at Addy’s grave.
We had a padre with us and he did a little service in front of the grave. We did prayers and I had a chance to speak to Addy in a spiritual sense, like he was there with us. It gave me chills when I started talking to him. I told him that his sons missed him and that it was an honour researching his life.
I also had the chance to visit many other graves and memorials in Normandy and each visit brought up different thoughts about the war, the soldiers, the families and many other things. At almost all the ceremonies I placed wreaths, and had a moment to reflect. It was a very emotional trip—one I will never forget. I am thankful that I was given the chance to participate on this pilgrimage.
The trip gave me the opportunity to see Juno Beach and interact with some of the remaining Canadian veterans from the Operation Overlord force as well as veterans of other conflicts. I realize that some of these men and women are very old, and I hope my experience will help towards keeping their memories alive for many more generations.
by Solange Saulnier
During the week of Nov. 10 to 15, 2008, I took part in Canada Remembers Week at Ottawa’s Terry Fox Canadian Youth Centre, as part of Historica’s Encounters with Canada program. While there, I met more than 130 young people from across Canada as well as several war veterans.
I was selected as one of two young Canadians who would participate in a pilgrimage to France, marking the 65th anniversary of D-Day and the Normandy Campaign. Being part of such a trip was very important for me because war is an event that affects me terribly. Both my grandfathers and several of my grand-uncles fought.
The pilgrimage, organized by Veterans Affairs Canada, was in France the first week of June, and I spent most of that time with veterans. As a result, I had some very rewarding conversations.
History is my passion. I think we should understand our past very well in order to understand our present and our future. However, war was a part of history that I had trouble understanding. Before our trip, I had got hold of war videos, and when I watched them I found them difficult to understand.
Visiting several memorials and going to Juno Beach with the veterans helped me understand history in a way everybody should understand it. Having the chance to talk with those who have experienced war was a golden opportunity. When we returned to Canada, I watched the videos again, and understood them perfectly.
I have retained a lot from my experience, and was so proud to be Canadian and to represent my country in France because Canadians are heroes in the eyes of many people who live there today. It was an honour to be part of the trip, and spend time with so many extraordinary people. It was very emotional.
The visits to Canadian war cemeteries and the beaches where Canadian soldiers landed shook me. I judge it is important to remember these tragic events in order to stop them from happening again.
During our trip, the experience I found hardest was honouring a soldier from my area who died in the D-Day landing. Prior to the trip I had researched the life of Bernard Haché, a cousin of my grandfather, Anthony Haché. They had gone to war together. The research made me realize that each dead soldier had a story, and now years later I had the chance to go in front of the grave of Bernard Haché and talk to him. It was very moving, and hiding my feelings was very hard.
I feel very honoured to have been part of the trip to Normandy, to have done these visits with them and to have been part of the services commemorating their service and sacrifice. It was the most beautiful experience of my life, and it will be with me forever.
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