Museum sheds light on Canada's wartime effort

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by syscom3, Jun 24, 2009.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    I never fully understood what Canada and Canadians did to liberate Europe in the Second World War until I worked for three months as a guide at the Juno Beach Centre in France.

    The Juno Beach Centre is still a young museum; only six years old. It was inaugurated on June 6, 2003, to commemorate Canada's contribution in the D-Day landings and throughout the Second World War.

    The centre's story is a testament to the fact that Canada is often overlooked in the telling of the war's history. Founded and still overseen by veteran Garth Webb and his partner, Lise Cooper, the centre filled a gaping hole in Normandy where the telling of Canada's war efforts should have been all along. Before the centre's inauguration, the largest Canadian monument in the area was a recovered Sherman tank which had sunk at Courseulles- sur-Mer on D-Day.

    As a guide at the Juno Beach Centre, my job was to illuminate Canada's wartime contribution. The last time I'd put serious thought into the war had been in my Grade 10 history class, so my preparation for this job entailed some serious brushing up on my Canadian history.

    A training week for the new guides took us to sites around Normandy, from Arromanches and Pegasus Bridge to Longues-sur- Mer and Pointe du Hoc, and to Canadian, British, American and German cemeteries. Each guide had been instructed to learn as much as they could about a soldier buried in one of the Canadian cemeteries. I chose to research George, Albert, and Thomas Westlake -- three Toronto-born brothers who all died in the Normandy campaign in June 1944, and who now rest in the Beny-sur-Mer cemetery in Reviers.

    We visited La Maison des Canadiens (The Canadians' House), the iconic house on the beach in Bernières-sur- Mer that is so visible in video and photographic footage of the D-Day landings. The house, so named because it was liberated by Canadians on June 6, has been dedicated by its owners, the Hoffer family, to serve as a site of remembrance for Canadian efforts. A plaque in front of the house briefly sums up its history. Inside, photos and artifacts turn the Hoffer's home into a small museum. When Mr. Hoffer welcomed us into his house, he shook my hand and thanked me for liberating his country.

    Jacques Vico, a member of the wartime French resistance, also spoke to us. His family owned the property at l'Abbaye d'Ardenne, where more than 20 Canadian prisoners of war were executed by the 12th SS Panzer division led by Kurt Meyer.

    This training week, along with a lot of reading, prepared me for giving guided tours explaining Canada's contribution to D-Day and the Normandy campaign, as well as, in less detail, the entire war.

    It wasn't lost on me that at the age of 22, I was older than many of the soldiers who had landed on the beach where I stood.

    One British Royal Air Force veteran who participated in a guided tour I led put things nicely into perspective. He asked my age, then chuckled and said that by the time he was 22 he had already served four years and been honourably discharged from service.

    And a Canadian visitor reminded me of the reality that Canada is at war today, when she told me that she was a Memorial Cross mother. She and her son had been planning a trip to visit Juno Beach. He had been killed in Afghanistan, but she decided to make the trip herself, in his honour.

    Meeting visitors from around the world, and Canadian visitors for whom visiting the Juno Beach Centre was a sort of pilgrimage, made my job about so much more than just relating facts and figures.

    I was struck by how impressed the visitors, particularly the French, were with the museum. They enjoyed speaking with the young Canadian guides. But one thing they consistently said was that they hadn't realized the huge contribution Canada had made in the Second World War.

    Reflecting on the controversy surrounding France's perceived snub of British contributions to the Normandy invasion, it isn't a stretch to say that in my experience, the dominant perception of the war on the part of the French people is that the liberation of France was indeed a "Franco-American" affair, with supporting roles played by the British -- and to a much lesser extent, the Canadians.

    But Canada did make an exceptional contribution to the war, especially considering its small population and relatively new status of legislative independence from Britain. And even though I didn't personally contribute to Canada's efforts in the war, I always felt a sense of pride when visitors would exit the museum expressing surprise and respect for the huge scale of Canada's Second World War involvement.

    It would be wrong to say Canada is forgotten in France. In the area surrounding the beach code-named Juno, where 14,000 Canadian soldiers landed on that June 6 morning, the Normans are grateful to Canada, and are active in preserving that memory. Canadian cemeteries are kept in impeccable condition. Monuments to Canadian regiments dot the towns and villages along the coast.

    On June 5, schoolchildren in Bermières-sur- Mer held their own ceremony to honour the Canadians who landed on D-Day. And an association called Amis de Juno Beach (Friends of Juno Beach) exists with the sole purpose of commemorating Canadian wartime efforts.

    Recognition of Canadian efforts may seem a bit quieter, and a bit more subdued than that of the Americans. But isn't that just quintessentially Canadian?

    Bronwyn Roe is a Kitchener resident who recently completed a three-month work term at the Juno Beach Centre in France.
     
  2. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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    They did a lot more than people relize.:salute:
     
  3. batcocan

    batcocan New Member

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  4. Ferdinand Foch

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    Nobody should forget what Canada did for the Allies. They make me proud to have them as a neighboring country. :salute:
     
  5. Hunter368

    Hunter368 Active Member

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    Nice Syscom
     
  6. wheelsup_cavu

    wheelsup_cavu Well-Known Member

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    #6 wheelsup_cavu, Jun 25, 2009
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2010
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    For all the unknown and known Canadian's who served on that day.

    James Doohan - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


    Wheelsup
     
  7. TenGunTerror

    TenGunTerror Member

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    Boy and I thought I was the only one who knew that they actually played a huge role. Their tin can navy and obsolete air force were both within the top 5 largest.
     
  8. trackend

    trackend Active Member

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    My old man was not only a D-Day vet and ended up working Sword Gold and Juno landing areas but 5 months later he was at the Walcherns which is one of the lesser known battles but not to the 12,000 (much of whom were Canadian) casualties, and my Uncle was KIA while serving with Bison Squadron RCAF so I am well aware of the Canadians war efforts and have the greatest respect for them as a nation :salute:
     
  9. lingo

    lingo Member

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    I think it true to say that we in the UK have been fully aware of the Canadian effort in both world wars. British, and particularly American efforts have been well portrayed in films, but for some reason not the Canadian. The US TV industry is very active in showing old films and more modern productions which are not surprisingly American centric.
     
  10. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    The Canadians were heavily involved in the campaign in NW Europe 1944-45 and also played a pivotal role in the Battle of the Atlantic, operating destroyers, escorts and aircraft in defense of convoys. Halifax was also a major convoy destination/origin point through which much vital war material flowed.

    I think the British and Commonwealth contribution in the later stages of the war is often overlooked - not just in Normandy, but also in Burma (how many times do you see Meiktila mentioned alongside Tarawa and Iwo Jima?) and in the Pacific where the RNs carriers served alongside the US fleet and took thier share of both the carrier ops and the retaliatory Kamikaze attacks. It's a history that needs to be recovered before we lose it altogether.
     
  11. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    While Canada deserves recognition as being a key contributor to the allied victory, we shouldn't assign it a status of being the "superman" of the war effort.

    Canada's contribution in the PTO was close to zero. That credit goes to the US and the ANZAC forces.
    Canada's contribution to the war in the CBI was again close to zero That credit belongs to the Brits, Chinese and US.

    Canada's contribution to the NA escort duties was quite important and deserves recognition.

    As for its contribution to the war on the ground in the ETO, lets put it into perspective. It provided just how many divisions? Mightily important to the Brits and Commonwealth forces, but as a whole, just a fraction of what the US was deploying (and I wont compare it to the Russians).

    Like I said above, they deserve credit for what they contributed to the war effort, but not lets get carried away. They were a fraction of the size of the US's population and industrial power and could only contribute so much.
     
  12. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    I think the issue is not "how much" they contributed, but more the fact that most people forget that they DID contribute. Period. Sure, the US was able to field more men and material...but that should not overshadow the contributions made by those Canadians who were there.
     
  13. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    I agree. I am just saying they were a small nation and could only contribute so much. Give recognition for where its due, but dont assign accolades to them when it isn't warranted.
     
  14. lingo

    lingo Member

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    This seems rather mean-spirited. Couldn't we agree on saying their small population consistently punched above their weight for the entire war?

    Remenber also that the war started in 1939 and not December 1941.
     
  15. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    I would consider the Aussies who provided the most "bang for the buck".

    And it isnt mean spirited to say so. Give Canada credit for which they deserve, but dont make them out to be supermen, because they werent. A small sized nation can only contribute so much.

    Did Canada contribute to the winning of the war? Yes.

    Could the allies have won the war without Canada? Yes.

    The war started in Dec 1941 for the US.
     
  16. pbfoot

    pbfoot Active Member

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    Although the Canadian contribution to the Pacific was not great we did manage to play in Hong Kong and in the Aleutians and that famous commander Simon Bolivar Buckner wanted us to pay duty on the weapons we brought. I also think we got the dirty job in NW Europe the battle for the Lowlands was the worst of the fighting in Western Europe.
     
  17. lingo

    lingo Member

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    Indeed it did. Canada came in with the mother country in September 1st 1939 so she was at war some two and a quarter years before the Pearl Harbor event and Hitlers extraordinary declaration caused Americas entry.
    The rest of us know it was a WORLD war and not just the preserve of the most numerous nations.
     
  18. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    #18 syscom3, Jul 4, 2009
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2009
    The US, UK and Russia completely dominated the industrial production of the war. The smaller nations contributed, but not in a critical way.

    "Not great"? try non existent, except for some help in the Aleutions. But I will give Canada credit for the trans Alaskan Highway, which was of far more use during the Cold War, than WW2.

    As for savage fighting, it was the US Army at the Ardennes that had the most brutal fighting on the western front.
     
  19. lingo

    lingo Member

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    I certainly do not agree with you there but we are all entitled to our own opinions. :)
     
  20. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    There was savage fighting everywhere
    The Paras fouight tooth and nail with the Germans around Pegasus Bridge
    The battle for Monte Casino was savage
    Omaha beach was very costly for the US

    I've never doubted the Canadian contribution, their sacrifice at Dieppe was considerable. By autumn 1939 there were more Canadians flying with the RAF than there were with the RCAF.
     
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