While the Queen’s Own landed at Bernières-sur-Mer, the Regina Rifles came in to the west on Nan Green Beach, at Courseulles-sur-Mer, with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles fighting beside them on the west side of the village on Mike Red Beach.
The Regina Rifles on Nan Green Beach faced the most heavily fortified area of Juno Beach. Ammunition from one 75mm gun, one 88mm, three 50mm anti-tank guns, twelve machine gun pillboxes and two 50mm mortars plus an additional two 75mm guns rained down on them. B Company engaged the pillboxes to the east of their landing zone, while A Company had to huddle in behind the landed tanks while they went after the German gun positions. Then, both companies began a block-to-block clear-out of Germans. At one point, A Company faced the frustrating job of going back to where they’d started to engage with Germans who had re-manned the guns by using the tunnels in their defenses to return there.
On Mike Red Beach, where the bombardment had failed to thin the German defenses, the men of B Company were barraged from the moment they stepped off the landing craft. The craft had arrived too far ahead of the DD tanks that might have protected the men, but nothing stopped them from storming the beach, no matter that their comrades were being cut down in the chest deep waters around them.
Once the DD tanks arrived, the Royal Winnipegs were able to overcome the German beach defenses and move inland, clearing a path through the minefield. B Company attained their target, but at a high cost. By the end of the day, only 26 men of B Company remained.
D Company landed at Mike Green Beach, just a bit to the west and quickly cleared a way through the minefield, so that they could get to Graye-sur-Mer. Once there, they quickly cleared the town of Germans. This allowed A Company and C Company to move through to their planned positions. By 17:00 hours, the Royal Winnipegs had reached Cruelly. By 18:00 hours, they had gone further than anyone thought they would and were dug in, awaiting their commanders.
Today, the Juno Beach Centre serves to remind us, sitting as it does on what I think was Mike Red Beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer. The idea came to Garth Webb after a visit to the Normandy beaches by the veterans of D-Day on the 50th anniversary. There were no memorials to the Canadian contribution and he felt that one should be constructed. Fundraising was conducted among the veterans and their families. Although the Canadian government contributed for the opening and to keep it running, they did nothing to honour the men who fought on June 6, 1944. Not until the veterans and their families had done the work of conceiving and constructing it.
The Juno Beach Centre was opened on June 6, 2003, on land given to the project by the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer. It is run by a non-profit organisation out of Burlington, Ontario, and serves as an education centre as well as a memorial. I learned more about Canadian history on my visit to Juno than I ever did in school. It starts with Canada of the 1930s, focussing on immigration policies and the economics of the time. Then it moves into the war years and the contribution of the Canadian troops in conjunction with the Allied forces.
I never knew that Canada was not obliged to participate in WWII as she had been during WWI. I never knew that in the 1930s, the Commonwealth Countries were given the option to stand alone within the Commonwealth, make their own decisions. I never knew that in 1939, when Britain declared war, the Canadian Parliament voted to support her.
Realising that Canadians were there by choice made me that much more proud of what we did. I wept on and off for several days and even now, as I type, a lump forms in my throat. We were an indomitable force because we knew we were fighting for something worth defending. That`s what Canadians do. Ours were the only forces on D-Day to reach the assigned objective.
The individual acts of bravery, the heart of the men who landed here, were astounding. Many had been together since 1940. They watched their friends die and kept moving forward as if this made them more determined to succeed.
As I wandered the beach, through the landing craft memorial, exploring the bunker a little, I thought of that. Of our choice to participate. The final room in the Centre talks about Canada today; what she is.
I wonder if the men who fought on D-Day, who fought all over the world during WWII, would think we had honoured them with what we have become. Certainly, the Juno Beach Centre, with its simplicity and simple message honours them.