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Europe 2019 Day 8

Europe 2019 Day 8

Good morning kids. Ya, my usual wit escapes me right now, so nothing smart or clever to say this morning. I thought I got enough sleep, but it was hard to get going after the alarm. I don’t know, maybe there was more time sitting on the bus than in previous days and we were up half an hour earlier than usual, but that shouldn’t matter. I could be just old, but then again the young people on the trip are also tired. So I’m just going to say we all suck and that should cover it.

Alright, so what’s the schedule for today Dave? Well, let me enlighten you shall I? Haha, I guess that was fairly clever for 630 wasn’t it? Clever, sarcastic…it really depends on your perspective right? Okay, I know, I know, get to the point. So we’re obviously in Caen, about 20km from Juno Beach, which is the objective for today. Did you see what I did there? Today’s “objective,” since we’re going to Juno Beach…I know you chuckled, or rolled your eyes. Anyway, we’ll be visiting the Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, the Juno Beach Centre, Bernieres-sur-Mer and Saint Aubin-sur-Mer before leaving for Paris.

One of the best things is that we’re supposed to see the sun. Yes! The forecast calls for +14C and mostly sunny, though very windy again. That should be interesting given the fact that we’re going to be on the English Channel, which is typically windy on a good day. I predict an interesting visit and some messy hair again…but not for me!

Okay, so we’re on our way to Paris. I know the kids are super excited to visit the city of lights. I myself much prefer the quaint, rolling countryside of Normandy. But that’s just me. It’s about 250km, so we have some time to relax on the bus. Yesterday the kids were a little messy, so the “Heinzelmänchen” or little dwarves of German folklore had to come out at night to tidy things up.

As I mentioned, our first stop was at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. The cemetery contains the remains of over 2,000 Canadians killed on D-Day or in the weeks following. Unlike Groesbeek, we didn’t assign the students individual soldiers, but rather we gave them a list of graves they could visit. The cemetery has a very notoriety in that there are 9 sets of brothers buried there, such as the Westlake and Branton brothers.

After a a brief prayer service, we spent about 40 minutes wandering amongst the graves. However many times I go, these cemeteries are still so sad. Today though, there was an air of serenity at Beny; the birds were chirping, it was windy but sun trying to come out. It like God was trying to thank us for honouring the sacrifice of these young Canadians all those years ago. One of the graves I made a point of visiting, was that of Rifleman Sulo Alanen, a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles who was killed in action on July 5th, 1944. Alanen was born in Nolalu, and I know his nephew, which made it very personal.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

Beny-sur-Mer Cemetery, March 2019.

From there it was a short drive to the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer, where we had a 10:00 appointment. We actually received a full tour, which I did not experience in my three previous visits. It began outside, where we were brought through two German bunkers, one a command bunker and the other a observation bunker. It was neat to see some new things and get the full explanation. Once that was done we moved inside for a visit to the museum. Having been there before, I raced outside and walked a short distance east, to Graye-sur-Mer where there was a tank memorial and another bunker, known as Cosy’s Bunker, captured by 10 Platoon, B Company, RWR. This area of Juno Beach is known as Mike Red Sector.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Cosy’s Bunker, Mike Red Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Juno Beach Centre, March 2019.

Once everyone was through the museum, we had another short drive, this time to the east. Our destination was Bernières-sur-Mer, or Nan White Sector. Here the Queen’s Own Rifles landed, and took very heavy casualties in the process. Their efforts are commemorated at Canada House, the first place captured by Canadian troops that day. Just to the east is a preserved German bunker, which caused many of the QOR’s casualties.

Canada House, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan White Sector, Bernières-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Another short drive east brought us to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, the eastern most part of Juno known as Nan Red. New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment landed here, supported by tanks of the Fort Garry Horse. There is another German bunker at Saint-Aubin, complete with the 50mm gun that knocked out several tanks on D-Day before it was silenced. After a short visit to the beach, we paused a for a quick lunch. My croque monsieur was awesome!

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Nan Red Sector, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

One of the great things about today was the weather. Eventually the sun came out, the clouds disappeared and it was gorgeous. Obviously, it was a little cooler by the English Channel, but it was still +15C…a heat wave! Now, on the road to Paris, it’s up to 18. With the sun and the balmy temperatures, you know what that meant. Well, I guess you wouldn’t know because I didn’t say anything about it, so I’m telling you now. Warm temps=shorts weather. So let me explain the background to this, as it is a going joke. All I normally wear on these trips are convertible plants; they are not the epitome of high fashion, but they are comfy and I love them. On past trips, when it gets warm, I’ve unzipped the bottoms and rocked the shorts. Therefore, with all the cold weather I have been waiting patiently for an opportunity to unzip and today I got it. Vive le shorts!

Enjoying the heat, Saint Aubin-sur-Mer, March 2019.

Okay, so we’re finally back at the hotel just before 11:00. What a long day! We arrived at our hotel at 5:00 and we had enough time to get to our rooms, freshen up quick and head to the RER (train) station at La Rueil-Malmaison. I always get a bit anxious riding the Paris public transportation, simply because it is so busy compared to other places. However, it is a good life lesson for the kids. Anyway, from the RER we transferred to the Metro to take us to our dinner destination. Our meal was at “Le Saulnier,” which consisted of a cheese pastry, beef bourgeon with potatoes and a puff pastry for dessert.

Afterwards, we were back on the Metro to go to Montmartre, and the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The were a few hectic moments, as the Metro was packed with people, but we made it okay. Montmartre is a hill in Paris, and the church is illuminated at night. It is quite the climb up the stairs to the top, which leaves your legs burning and rubbery when you’re done. The view is spectacular from the hill, and the kids really enjoyed it. From there, it was back on the Metro and RER to the hotel.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica, March 2019.

Paris, March 2019.

 

Anyway, It’s time to turn in soon. I’m pooped! We have another busy day planned, our last day, which will keep us hopping. Until then…

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Posted by on March 16, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 8

Day 8 Les Enfants. Even though I am still tired and could have stayed in bed a whole lot longer, I am not a complete zombie and have some vague human semblance. Since we roll out at later time today, maybe that extra hour of sleep helped. Who knows. In any case, I feel better. Maybe it’s because with a better wifi connection, I was able to FaceTime my family last night. As much fun as we’re having gallivanting around Northern Europe, I do miss them.

Okay, we’re on the bus now, making our way to Juno Beach. The whole group was enchanted with the town of Honfleur. What a gorgeous place! It’s almost so picturesque and idyllic that it you can mistake it for fake; Ms. Caza thinks it’s a place you could fall in love in. We walked along the harbourfront to St. Catherine’s Church, which had such an amazing architecture. Except for the foundation, the whole church was made of wood, which is very unusual. It’s shaped like an inverted ship and the inside was breathtaking. I wish we had more time to take it in.

St. Catherine Church, Honfleur, April 2017.

St. Catherine Church, Honfleur, April 2017.

Afterwards we broke up for a little bit and gave the kids a chance to wander around. I did grab some local honey outside the church in the farmers market and then spent most of my time taking pictures. It is certainly a photographers delight. On our way back to the bus, Jason took us through the oldest part of the town and it was amazing. The authentic, narrow cobblestone streets with the gutter running down the middle was something to see. You could tell the buildings were original by their construction and the aging of the wood. I’m glad we went into the town and I would definitely go back some day.

Honfleur, April 2017.

Vimy group, Honfleur, April 2017.

So we are now on the road to the city of Paris…the kids are all excited! Our visit to Normandy was was fantastic, and filled with many new things. The first stop was at the Juno Beach Centre in Courselles-sur-Mer. It’s a neat place, but I’ve seen it twice before, so I went through as quickly as possible. I did spend some time in the gift shop, as I always get the boys a shirt. I was a little challenging trying to find them something, especially Noah, since they really didn’t have any kids sizes. From there it was outside to take a look at the German bunkers and the beach.

The area where the centre is located is at Mike Red Sector, which was assaulted by the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, with the support of tanks from the 1st Hussars. In the past there was one bunker, which you couldn’t see much of due to restricted access. In 2014, they began excavation on another bunker, which is now open to the public. It was really interesting to walk through. The beach was okay, though the tide was up and there was not much to see.

From the Juno Beach Centre we took a short bus ride 5 minutes to the east to Bernieres-sur-Mer. There we had a short walk along the sea wall on what was once Nan White Sector. Assaulted by troops from the Queen’s Own Rifles, this area saw the most intense fighting on June 6, with the QOR taking heavy casualties to capture the beach. The area features a German bunker on the east side of the sector and “Canada House” on the west. Canada House was the first structure captured by Allied troops on D-Day.

Nan White Sector, Bernieres, April 2017.

Canada House, Bernieres, April 2017.

St. Pats group, April 2017.

We jumped on the bus for another short ride east again to St. Aubin-sur-Mer, site of Nan Red Sector. On D-Day, troops from New Brunswick’s North Shore Regiment landed there. Our visit was primarily based on our need to satisfy our gastric desires. We did find some places to eat, but there was also history to see as well. Just like Bernieres, there is a German bunker on the beach, this one featuring a 50mm anti-tank gun. According to the plaque, it knocked out several tanks from the Fort Garry Horse before other tanks silenced it.

We had been to Bernieres on both previous trips, but never to St. Aubin. What a pretty little town! There were many picturesque buildings along the promenade and in the town. Before and after we ate, I spent a lot of time taking pictures and shooting video. The tide was going out, so there was a lot of room on the beach to wander. I would definitely go back in a heartbeat, maybe with more time to look around. That holds true for the whole Juno Beach area.

Nan Red Sector, St. Aubin, April 2017.

It’s almost 2300 and the end of a long day. Sometimes you forget how much of a whirlwind these EF Tours can be. This morning we were in Normandy, and now we’re in Paris. Our hotel is some 50km from downtown Paris, but it’s in a very nice area near Disneyland. After our arrival, we quickly went to our rooms and headed over to a nearby mall to try and grab a bite to eat. While the stores were closed, the restaurants were quite busy and there was a lot of options to chose from. It was a nice way to end the evening.

Anyway, I need to go check on the kids before turning in myself. We have a very busy day tomorrow; the commute, Versailles, dinner and a river cruise. I’m sure there will be a lot to talk about in the next post. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2014 Day 7

Day 7 is calm and very foggy. Daylight gives us a much better impression of the chateau and its grounds…stunning! I would definitely come back here if given the opportunity. Before breakfast I had a chance to walk around a bit and it was very beautiful with the fog, trees and the small waterfall. I’m interested to see what it is like when the fog lifts. We are really in the heart of Normandy and it is so pretty and idilic here.

So we are about to leave for the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, which is literally five minutes away. We are so close to the beaches it is amazing. This should be a great day of remembering, exploring and discovery.

We’re back on the bus now, making our way past Arromanches toward the American cemetery behind Omaha beach. Beny was probably the most touching yet, mostly because we had a lot of time to look around. The cemetery holds the remains of over of 2000 Canadians who were killed on or in the weeks after D-Day. It also has the unfortunately distinction of having the most number of brothers buried in any Commonwealth cemetery at 9 (but I counted 11).

For the soldier visits, I gave our students all the sets of brothers to research. Jessica, Brenna and I had the 3 Westlake brothers of Toronto, who were killed serving with the Queen’s Own Rifles and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Thomas and Alfred, who were with the Queen’s Own, are buried side by side in the cemetery.

Rflm A. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. A. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. T. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. T. Westlake, March 2014.

Pte. G. Westlake, March 2014.

Pte. G. Westlake, March 2014.

I spent the rest of the time wandering around, reading the headstones and inscriptions. The morning fog provided a surreal atmosphere in the cemetery. As a Canadian I am filled with with pride and honour at the sacrifice of our young men all those years ago. This visit really hit me hard, and as a parent it ripped my heart out to read the inscriptions from mothers and fathers to their children. I cannot even fathom losing one of my boys.

The American cemetery at Omaha beach was an interesting visit. There are over 9,000 US fallen at this site overlooking the beach and is quite massive. I’d never been to an American cemetery before and it has a totally different atmosphere and feel. Even the headstones are very different, though I think that the inscriptions at Commonwealth cemeteries add more of a personal touch.

Omaha Beach Cemetery, March 2014.

Omaha Beach Cemetery, March 2014.

So we’re heading back east now, on our way to Arromanches. This was where Gold Beach was located, along with the British part of the Mulberry Harbour. There is a big museum there with many static outdoor displays of military equipment. This vistas from the cliffs are quite beautiful!

Well, so much for the vistas in Arromanches! The fog is just beginning to lift, so it was hard to see much on the beach. The tide was much farther out than when we were here in 2012, so I was able to walk right down to the Mulberry pieces lying in the sand. It was very neat to be that close.

Mulberry Harbour remains, March 2014.

Mulberry Harbour remains, March 2014.

Lunch was good, though painfully slow. I had waffles with chocolate, white chocolate and whipped cream, while Jo-Anne had crepes. Too bad it took an hour and a half of the two hours we had in the town. I would have liked a little more time to look around and take pictures. Anyway, we’re back on the bus headed toward the Juno Beach Centre.

The visit to the Juno Beach Centre was great, even though I had been there before. Afterwards, we had a little time to look around the on beach, which is officially know as Mike Red Sector, Juno Beach. We then hopped on the bus for the short ride east to Bernieres-sur-Mer. At this location, Nan White Sector, Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles landed on June 6. In a matter of 10 minutes the battalion suffered nearly 50% casualties in the dash across the beach. There is a German bunker preserved there and it really gives the students an idea of how far the soldiers had to run to get off the beach.

German bunker at Nan White Sector, Juno Beach, March 2014.

German bunker at Nan White Sector, Juno Beach, March 2014.

We are now on our way back to the chateau; if it wasn’t for the fog it would have been a fantastic day. It was so warm with very little wind and the tides were very low. Dinner will be at 7, so that will give us a little bit of time to look around the grounds and explore the area. I’m not sure what is on the menu for dinner, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Well I’m just about out of energy and I think it’s time for bed. Even though we didn’t do a lot of walking, it was certainly a long day and we saw a lot of things. Dinner at the chateau was great and we got a chance to look around the area and get a real sense of what it is like. Tomorrow we have an early morning; a visit to the nearby village of Creuly and then off to mass before we depart for Paris. We probably won’t be checking into the hotel until very late, so it will be another long day.

Chateau du Baffy, March 2014.

Chateau du Baffy, March 2014.

So the next you’ll hear from me I’ll be in Paris and we’ll be on the final leg of the trip. I have to be up at 6:00, so I’m out for now. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Vimy Day Five

7:53, on the bus and ready to roll.

I didn’t think I could any more tired, but I am! I had some girls from another school in the room beside me playing music past 12:30 this morning. I was up at 6:00, so my eyes are rather heavy. I’m sure I’ll perk up at Juno Beach and the cemeteries we visit; should be another amazing and emotional day.

The graves of the Branton brothers.

Our first stop today was the Canadian War Cemetery at Beny sur Mer. There are over 2000 Canadians buried there and it was a very emotional experience again. I find it interesting that Beny, like Dieppe, is tucked away in a very quiet location. It is probably better that way. Unlike Dieppe, I did have a mission today, which was to find the graves of Gordon and Ronald Branton. Brothers from Lethbridge, Alberta, they are just one of several sets of brothers buried in Beny. Their inscription reads, “We left with a jest our home in the west. Now here with the best we lie at rest.”


A very short drive later we arrived at the Juno Beach Centre, which was built almost 10 years ago as a museum not only for D-Day, but for all of Canada’s WWII involvement. The Centre was interesting to see, but I really wanted to get to the beaches. The part of Juno Beach in front of the Centre was known as Mike Red sector, and it was where the Winnipeg Rifles came ashore. There was an observation post located just behind the beach, but our Tour Director Hugo was going to take us farther east where there was more to see.

It was very fitting that today was cold, misty and windy, much like it was on June 6, 1944.

German bunker, Nan White Sector, Juno Beach.

Our next destination was Bernieres-sur-Mer, where the  Queen’s Own Rifles came ashore at sector Nan White. The first house they captured is called Canada House and just down the beach is a preserved bunker adorned with the QOR logo. The Queen’s Own suffered the highest casualties of all the assault units, and looking from the bunker tells you why. Designed to enfilade the beach, it and others killed and wounded half of the QOR in minutes. I made a point of picking up some sand and rocks…almost like I’m taking pieces of Canadian history.


We spent our lunch in the town of Arromaches, which is in the Gold Beach area. After eating a baguette with jambon and frites, I wandered the immediate area for a while. There is a museum there, along with several vehicle and artillery displays. In the sea off Arromaches you can see the remains of the Mulberry artifical harbour system. I think the kids were more excited about the gift shops that sold WWII relics, like shrapnel and shell casings.

On our way back to Rouen, we made a detour to the Canadian cemetery at Bretteville sur Laize. It was quite the adventure getting there, driving all the back roads from Arromaches to Cintheaux. At one point we had to cross a two bridges right by each other with a wicked curve in the middle. Our driver had to get out and size things up; he figured we could make it. After a few tense moments, some skillful driving and a little scrape, we made it through. It earned him a well-deserved round of applause. 

The cemetery at Bretteville has almost 2800 burials and is absolutely huge. It was too bad we were pressed for time as the 30 minutes we had was way to short, but I really wanted to visit this cemetery and was glad that we made it. Our first order of business was to hold a short service in honour of those who gave their lives for Canada. Kudos goes out to our friends at St. Ignatius for organizing these little ceremonies…I think it makes it that much more significant for the students. 

Grave of Major Griffin, Black Watch.

For many years I have taught my Gr. 10 students about the fighting in Normandy, and in particular the Battle of Verrières Ridge . This battle was part of a larger, unsuccessful series of attacks called Operation Spring. More than 800 Canadians were killed in Spring, and they are all buried at Bretteville. In particular, I teach them about what happened to the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada) at Verrieres and how the entire regiment was wiped out. The commander of the Black Watch (who was an acting commander after everyone above him became casualties), Major Phil Griffin, was blamed for the failure of the attack; I wanted to pay my respects to him.I think that it will mean more to me now that I’ve visited his grave and saw the area that was fought over.


There was one more thing I had to do before we left. Prior to becoming a teacher, my career goal was to attend military college and enter the army. When I was 17 I

Grave of Major Styffe, Lake Superior Regiment.

joined the local infantry reserve unit, the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment. The LSSR perpetuates the Lake Superior Regiment, which fought in Normandy as part of the 4th Armoured Division. Forty-two members of the LSR are buried at Bretteville and I thought it was my duty to try and honour them. However due to our time constraints, I was only able to visit the grave of Major Edward Styffe, who was killed in action August 14, 1944. I did pledge to myself that I would return some day and do the fallen members of the Regiment proud.


On our return to Rouen we went to dinner, which was an okay meal of pasta with chicken in a sort of Alfredo sauce. We did take some time to celebrate the birthdays of Matt J. and Cassie who were both turning 16 during the trip. After dinner we had a bit of free time, so the kids could relax, look around the square a bit and unwind. Tomorrow is Easter, so we are heading off to mass at 9:30; I’ve never been to church in another country so I am looking forward to the experience. I’ll finish this off after we return.

The church was locked, so I guess there wasn’t mass. Can you cancel church?

Tonight I had the chance to speak to my wife Jo-Anne and the boys for a bit. Although I am enjoying myself immensely, I do miss them very much. I really want to take my boys here one day to see this for themselves…I think it is something that all Canadians should do. It really makes you thankful for the life we enjoy. After to speaking to my boys tonight and experiencing all the history over the last few days I wanted to leave you with this. I thought it would be a fitting way to end given the purpose of this trip. It was pointed out to me by my colleague Sara at Bretteville. Please click on the photo and read the inscription at the bottom; I became so choked up I had trouble taking the picture. Until then…

Grave of Rifleman Janson, Regina Rifles.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Miscellaneous, Travel, Writing

 

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