Skip to content

Unique people, places brought D-Day history to life in Normandy

Finding Canadian moments made a brief trip for 80th anniversary of Juno Beach landing memorable, writes PhD student Rosemary Giles

As poignant as the various commemorative D-Day ceremonies were, I found that some of the most interesting moments came from the unique people and places that I happened across, both at the official events and elsewhere.

On my first night in Bernières-sur-Mer, I traveled down to the sea to locate the camp of French reenactors who were posing as Canadian soldiers. They had an impressive set-up, including Jeeps, trucks, tents and other equipment. They wore the uniform of Le Régiment de la Chaudière, one of four entirely Francophone infantry units during the war.

I thought that they were going to be the only group of reenactors that I ran into dressed in Canadian uniform, but I was proved wrong the following day when six individuals showed up at official ceremony at Beny-sur-Mer. They stood at attention for much of the ceremony, and had brought their own poppies to put on the lapels of their jackets. I was able to speak with them before I left, as I was curious why they chose to wear the Canadian uniform when most reenactors chose to wear those of the Americans or British.

I was told that they are all from Britanny and that during the war a Canadian ship was sunk there. They attend the D-Day ceremonies every year, in Canadian uniform, to honour the service members from that ship and elsewhere.

It doesn’t feel emphatic enough to say that there were a lot of reenactors; truly, they were everywhere. Yet there was a group who, instead of camping out in a town field, were camping out on the grounds of the le château de Fontaine-Henry, a stunning 13th century castle.

Re-enactors were everywhere in Normandy for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, including the grounds of the le château de Fontaine-Henry, a stunning 13th century castle. Rosemary Giles photo

On the evening of June 5, I had some time to kill before returning to Beny-sur-Mer to attend the candlelight vigil so I thought that I would visit their Liberation Ball to see the building and the re-enactors. The audience was almost entirely French, and was a mix of those camping on the grounds and other people from nearby towns.

While I had many opportunities to see the way that the French chose to commemorate D-Day, I was also lucky to talk with different Canadians who were there for the anniversary. At the Juno Beach Centre on June 6, I had the pleasure of meeting another Ontario-based family. They were all wearing matching shirts with a photograph that was clearly from the war.

When I got talking to them, I learned that they were there because their relative (father/grandfather/greatgrandfather), William ‘Mac’ Dixon, had driven the Sherman tank named the “Bold” when it landed on Juno Beach on D-Day. The tank, which was supposed to be amphibious but it ended up sinking. It remained in the water off the coast of Courseulles-sur-Mer until the 1970s when it was pulled out, refurbished, and dedicated as a war memorial.

Dixon did survive the war. This tank memorial is well known, and it’s nearly impossible to get to the Juno Beach Centre without passing by it, yet I had no idea that there was such an interesting story behind it. The dedication plaque reads, “The First Hussars dedicate this tank which spent nearly twenty-seven years in the
depths of the water to the memory of all those who took part in this action.”

Although very brief, this trip is one that I will remember forever; but it certainly won’t be my last trip to Normandy.

Born and raised in Waterdown, Rosemary Giles is a PhD student in History at Western University who was selected to attend the 80th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy at the Juno Beach Centre in France. While overseas for this event, she visited a variety of other ceremonies and commemorations.

A reenactors' camp in Normandy during the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Rosemary Giles photo


What's next?

Reader Feedback
push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks