Juno Beach - The Storm Before the Calm

Trip Start May 30, 2012
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Trip End Nov 07, 2012


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Flag of France  , Normandy,
Friday, July 27, 2012

It was darker then usual this morning, but it had calmed down a lot. There was still quite a bit of cloud cover from the storm we had come through the night before. The wind had been so loud it woke me up at 3 in the morning. I had set some of clothes on the deck, so I quickly got up to see if they were still there. They were, but not in the spot I left them. Today we had planned to go to Juno beach. Over 68 years ago, Juno beach was the location that the Canadian forces stormed on D-day in 1944. They were a part of a massive operation involving many countries to take the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy. Over 6000 ships navigated the English Channel that day in hopes to break the Nazis' deathgrip on the north western European coastline. They had to postpone their attack a day because a bad storm made it difficult to coordinate precise landing times. So I can imagine the morning of D-day might have looked very similar to this morning for us, dark with cloud cover and a tinge of pink. The average age for the Canadian troops was around 23/24, just a couple years younger than myself. They had been training in Britain for 2 to 3 years before, preparing for combat, and getting ready for this day. 

Juno beach spans 8km of coastline, with the centre around the small town of Courseulles Sur Mer. The Canadian regiments were from all across Canada, from the Canadian Scottish Regiment based in Vancouver Island to the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment. Coincidentally the Regiments from west Canada to east Canada were also layed out on Juno beach from west to east. Jess and I spent some time looking through the museum at the Juno Beach Centre, and then took a guided tour of the beach and the Nazis defenses. All the people at the centre are students from Canada, and rotate on 4 month cycles. Our tour guide just happened to be a history major. We learned so much! It was amazing for me to see what the soldiers were up against on the beach. The Nazis thought of everything when putting up their defenses. The shooting range of the bunkers overlapped, and certain ports like Courseulles Sur Mer had extra bunkers. They had many concrete tetrahedrons (the frame of a pyramid), to stop any vehicles and boats from getting too far on the beach. The tetrahedrons had mines on the tops of them, to explode if a boat hit them in high tide, and on their bottoms, to explode if a vehicle hit them in low tide. They also had hedgehogs (metal bowties used for vehicle obsticles) and pillboxes (holes in the ground for a soldier to pop out of, shoot, and then take cover). The bunkers themselves had reinforced concrete walls that were thicker than 6 feet. No artillery that the Allies used could get through that. On our tour we got to go inside one of the observation bunkers. The ventilation system had pipes at 90 degree turns so that no grenade could make it all the way through the wall, and it had a decontamination room in case any chemical weapons were used against them.

Unlike the Americans at Omaha beach, who were unfortunately pinned down for hours, we were told the Canadians took the beach in 3.5 hours. This was because a lot of the soldiers manning the guns in defense of Juno beach were not Nazis, but were foreign prisoners of war. Therefore they were a lot less determined to defend against the Allies who were coming to liberate the country. The big challenge for the Canadian troops came more inland when they had to battle new squadrons of 18-19 year old Nazi S.S. troops who were still brainwashed enough to fight to the death against Nazi opposition. It was quite humbling to stand on the same sand that our Canadian troops fought so bravely over 68 years ago. I tried to put myself in their shoes. I tried to think what I would be feeling riding in that landing craft toward the heavily defended Normandy beaches. If I had been born at a different time, that might have been me!

Once we were done at Juno beach, we headed back to our home base in Caen. There are Canadian flags everywhere in Caen because once the Canadian troops had secured Juno beach, they eventually made their way to Caen to liberate the people there. We had another amazing couch surf host in Caen! Stefan has been hosting couch surfers for a while now and everyone gives him positive reviews. He is very quick to share everything he has, and he is a blast to hang out with. For work, Stefan is in charge of promoting Normandy tourism all over the World. He gets paid to travel all over and tell people about Normandy. What a job! Before it got too dark, Stefan took us on a car ride through Caen, telling us all about the town. A lot of the town had been damaged from Allied bombing, but some buildings still survived. He would stop at certain spots for us to take pictures if we wanted, and he told us some background stories of a few buildings that he knew. Stefan parked the car, and the three of us walked around the older part of Caen, and to the castle. Very beautiful little town. We also walked to the canal harbour to see a little wine/art market on the street beside the canel. On the way home, Stefan drove by some of the same buildings we saw before, but were now lit up at night. It was a whole new atmosphere. Stefan was kind enough to let us use his washing machine that night, so we finished our stay in Caen doing laundry and watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. The next day we headed out with clean clothes and great memories.

Ryan                        
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Comments

mil on

juno beach and mr. bean in the space of one experience; quite the juxtaposition. you are a very good travel writer, sil! love, mil

Nana on

I'm sitting on Aunt Mona& Lynn's deck,it's a beautiful day---- and am fully engrossed in your adventures!!When I read along,all I can think is WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD,you & Jess are experiencing !! GOD IS GOOD!!
Love you's,Nana XX

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