In honour of the 75th Anniversary of the Second World War D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, the British Columbia Veterans Commemorative Association (BCVCA) proudly sponsored four worthy and inspired youth, representing British Columbia, on the Juno Beach 75 Student Pilgrimage to Europe, 3 to 14 July 2019.
Elisha Davidson-Yee (Surrey), Caleb Erb (North Vancouver), Francesca La Pore (Coquitlam), and Max Redmond, (Vancouver) journeyed in the footsteps of Canada’s courageous men and women who served in the North-Western Europe Campaigns. They visited the Battlefields of the First and Second World Wars and paid tribute to Canadian Fallen resting in cemeteries across Europe. It was an experience of a lifetime and life-changing!
Elisha, Caleb, Francesca, and Max experienced how Canadians willingly volunteered and sacrificed their lives in the cause of peace. They were welcomed by towns and villages across Europe and came to understand how revered Canadians are for their relentless call to duty when oppressive forces threatened freedoms and democracies in foreign lands.
The Student Pilgrimage experience included visits to Canada’s Juno Beach Centre and Canadian War Graves Cemeteries and Memorials:
- World War I – Essex Farm, Tyne Cot, Cabaret Rouge, La Targette War Cemeteries, Menin Gate and Vimy Ridge Memorials; and
- World War II – Dieppe, Beny-sur-Mer, Brettville-sur-Liaize, Bayeau War Cemetery and Bayeau Memorial Arches.
Top Image: L to R: Archie Steacy, Caleb Erb, Elisha Davidson-Yee, Francesca Lapore, Max Redmond, Sharel Fraser and Richard Horie
BCVCA guided the BC Pilgrimage Students on making the experience as impactful as possible. A “Safe Journey” send-off reception was hosted by BCVCA at the Officers’ Mess of the British Columbia Regiment (DCO). It was an opportunity for the BC Student Pilgrims and their parents to meet Second World War Veterans and learn more about BC’s Military history. Members of the Juno Beach Centre presented an overview of the embarking Student Pilgrimage experience. Guests of the Vancouver Remembrance Day Committee were also introduced to the Pilgrimage Students.
Each student was presented with a framed certificate of pilgrimage participation, a Canadian Mint Collectors 75th Anniversary of D-Day Silver Dollar, the British Columbia Regiment (DCO) Memorial Medallion naming the Regiment’s 125 World War II Fallen and BCVCA’s educational material about British Columbia’s Military History. They were also asked, when entering the Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries, to first attend the cemetery’s Cross of Sacrifice, each lay a poppy thereon, honouring all the Fallen, and then locate the gravesite of two specific Fallen British Columbia Soldiers and read and record the headstone inscriptions. After placing a poppy on the gravesites, a photograph was taken of the student at the gravesite and the “Cross of Sacrifice”.
Upon return home to Canada, the students wrote essays with photos about their thoughts relating to Canadian duty, service and sacrifice. Elisha, Caleb, Francesca and Max each painted a wooden poppy disc, and inscribed the specific British Columbia soldiers’ names. BCVCA requested the Vancouver Remembrance Day Committee, that these poppy discs be laid during the wreath laying ceremony at the Victory Square Cenotaph as part of the 2019 Vancouver Remembrance Day Ceremony. BCVCA requested that one of the British Columbia students deliver their poignant thoughts about Canadian valour and sacrifice.
Juno Beach Pilgrimage Student Essays
Juno75th Student Pilgrimage, 3 – 14 July 2019, on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.
Juno Beach Pilgrimage Essay – Elisha Davidson-Yee
Having been chosen to participate in the Juno75 Student Pilgrimage this past summer was a truly remarkable experience that will always hold a very special spot in my heart. When I first heard about this opportunity, I was immediately set on applying. I’ve always had an extremely strong interest in history, especially learning about World War I and II. This opportunity is so unique, and I feel like it allowed me to grow and learn so much in the span of time that was this trip. I would once again like to express my greatest thanks to both the Juno Beach Centre and the British Columbian Veterans Commemorative Association for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Throughout these two weeks, I feel as though I grew so much as a person. I believe I have developed a more in depth understanding of World I and II, as well as learning more about myself and values. I found that this experience really put everything into perspective for me and put an emphasis on my own priorities and what is important to me. Every single day, I learned something new or developed a stronger understanding for a certain element of the Wars. Each minute was special to me in ways that I can’t even find words to describe. The individual moments that I got to experience each day were what made the overall experience so impactful. Though every single moment of this pilgrimage was significant to me, the following examples are some that really stood out to me and that I still remember so vividly.
One of these moments was when we travelled to the Bény-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. This is where the soldier I had researched, Henry William Abel, was buried. Before departing for Belgium and France, all of the participants had the task of researching a soldier who had served in either World War I or II. I am so grateful we were given this assignment as it really allowed me to view everything we saw on the trip in a new light. Through my research, I developed a personal connection and bonded with my fallen soldier. This was partly why this cemetery had such an impact on me. Before presenting my report, I found my soldier’s headstone and it was very emotional. It was if, while doing the research and learning about him, he was still alive. However, seeing his headstone there, with his engraved name and the inscription that I had memorized, it seemed in that moment that he was truly gone. Having that information sink in, it was hard because it was though I was feeling the loss for the first time. Even now, thinking back on this moment gives me shivers and makes my eyes well up. Of course, through learning in school and basic knowledge, I knew the “numbers” of casualties that were a result of the Wars. Really seeing it in person though, and letting it fully sink in is hard. Coming home, it was hard to shake it off because I was so invested in what I had seen and experienced.
Another influential moment was our arrival at the Vimy Ridge Memorial. I was genuinely stunned into silence. It wasn’t just the fact that I was standing in front of such a well-recognized part of our history or the monument’s sheer size that shocked me. It was how many names were engraved on it, and how almost pure and innocent it looked standing tall against the bright blue sky; an enormous mass of shining white. It is fitting that the feeling created by this monument gives a vision of heaven, a perfect symbol of remembrance.
On July 11th, we had the privilege of attending a ceremony honouring Richard LaCroix, a member of the First Canadian Paratroop Battalion. This ceremony was held in a church in the small village of St. Vaast-en-Augé. This was such an incredible experience as this soldier was a relative of one of the other participants. Her family back home in Winnipeg and a family in this village have been corresponding since Richard LaCroix’s death during World War II. It was so touching to see her finally meet them and see his grave. It is such an emotional moment of connection and association, and I feel privileged that I got to be present for this special occasion. The way we were greeted in St. Vaast-en-Augé was touching. As it is such a small village, a large majority of the population had come to see us arrive and watch the ceremony. We were welcomed with such open arms and it was so heartwarming to feel such a connection right away. Their level of respect and dedication that they have for us Canadians is absolutely inspiring. It is so clear that they haven’t forgotten our ancestors’ sacrifice, as well as what our fellow Canadians continue to do every day. Seeing the way that they so caringly preserve this memory demonstrates such devotion, which I so strongly believe needs to be carried on back in Canada. The level of appreciation we were given was such a privilege, I could only imagine how they would have greeted the real soldiers, and I wish more of them had been able to see how impactful their contribution was.
As the D-Day landings played such a large role in Canadian history, I’m so grateful that we had the chance to visit the Juno Beach Centre multiple times throughout our stay in Bayeux and Courseulles-Sur-Mer. As the JBC’s youth representatives, visiting both the Beach and the Museum was very special. Once again, we were greeted with such consideration and pride that I was overwhelmed. Meeting the student guides and everyone else working for the JBC was inspiring, and I look forward to applying there in the near future as a guide myself. At the end of our educational visit of the JBC, we were shown a video that played in the theatre. The end of it was very emotional; it was a family with two young kids walking along the beach. They are talking about the importance of the Canadians’ sacrifice. As the film ends and they walk away, there are visions of soldiers that gradually appear and walk behind them. It is such a simple addition to the video but it really hit me in both the heart and mind, as well as impacted many of the others in the group. It demonstrates that as long as we continue to learn, respect, and appreciate this sacrifice, these fallen soldiers will always be with us.
Having experienced this trip following in the footsteps of the brave men who served our country during the wars, it was as though I had taken a journey myself. After being so fully immersed in this history, it was hard to come back home knowing that I hadn’t physically suffered any tragedies or lost any one in the process. It was overwhelming and emotionally stirring reliving their encounters, and I’m still very much in the headspace of thinking about these experiences. It was eye opening having the opportunity to see the legacy and inspiration they left behind and what has been left for them in return. As these experiences have been so influential in giving me new perspectives and also teaching me the importance of having a strong generation who remembers, I understand even more now the absolute importance of reinforcing these ideas of sacrifice and how crucial the idea of remembrance and respect truly is.
I am so honoured to have been chosen to make this journey to pay homage to all that served for our country. It means so much to me knowing that I had the opportunity to pay my respects and to really create a strong connection to this part of our history. I so strongly look up to and am inspired to be strong by everyone who served in the cause of securing freedom for their country and families. I couldn’t be happier and more proud to say that I am Canadian and I’m so incredibly grateful that I was among those students chosen to demonstrate the genuine compassion and respect that we have for our veterans and history.
Juno 75th Student Pilgrimage, 3 – 14 July 2019, on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.
Juno Beach Pilgrimage Essay – Caleb Erb
This summer I had the amazing opportunity to go over to France and Belgium on the Juno 75th Student Pilgrimage to learn about the First and Second World Wars. And more importantly, to learn about the soldiers, the Canadian soldiers, that went over and foughtfor freedom in those countries. Going over there, one of the ﬁrst things that immediately stuck out for me was the sheer number of the loss that happened. Especially those listed on the Menin Gate in Ypres, how many names there were on the wall. Picturing that every single name left on that wall was a person that wasn’t going home to their family; mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and children. They gave everything.
Another one of the ﬁrst things I noticed was all the people who visited the graveyards we went to on the trip. Every time we visited a graveyard, I pictured standing over the graveyards and looking up through all the white headstones and seeing a soldier standing behind each headstone. And how they are still standing for freedom. Even though they are dead, what they did and the impact that it had on people, still stands today.
It’s hard for me to explain this without it sounding odd but it is really important for me to share this personal experience; namely that I could see them. When we looked at the photos and then went and visited the beaches and battlegrounds, it was no longer just some piece of ground that something happened in long ago, I could actually see them. You may have seen some of the photographs where they take a modern image and gradually fade it into the black and-white photo from the war taken at the same place; this was what it was like for me. I know it’s strange but for me, the ghosts of the past were really there.
Every single person in our Juno 75 Pilgrimage gave a presentation on a soldier of their choice from either WWI or WWII. I always pictured the soldier standing right there next to them. Especially for those that were giving a presentation about someone in their family that died over there, often a great grandparent. I could picture the soldier, the family member, standing behind or beside them and listening, nodding their head, and being grateful that somebody came from across the world, from their community and remembered them and remembered what happened to them. Remembered that they went over to Europe, fought and died and never came back, and how that 75 and 100 years later, people still remember their sacriﬁces and what they did for us. And what they did for the people where they fought. I just hope the soldiers that I researched and presented were standing next to me when I told their story.
At the end of the trip, we went to Paris. Visiting Paris I kind of thought to myself as I walked through the streets, if those people, people from all over the world, including ones from my community, if they didn’t come over and ﬁght, give up everything they had, that Paris itself wouldn’t be what it is today. And then I thought back over the whole trip and it is not just Paris, but all of the other towns and places that we visited where the people were so full of joy just hearing that a Canadian had come over to visit and learn about what our ancestors did. The people there still have tremendous gratitude towards people from Canada, even though we didn’t do anything ourselves, we were welcomed as if we had played a part. We were just visiting, ﬁnding out what happened and remembering those who came over. It was only just a few people from across Canada, and we were all kids! It was truly humbling and powerful.
I spent a lot of time thinking about why. Why they would go over there, why they would give up everything, why they would give up everything for people they didn’t even know? A lot of soldiers just knew they were ﬁghting for freedom, but they didn’t know the people they were ﬁghting for. Didn’t know that 75 and 100 years later that the people that they liberated, that their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, are still grateful, still remember them, and are thankful for what they did. I think it’s kind of crazy that people over there have more respect and remember more about our soldiers than we do. It is actually shaming to consider this.
What I want to bring back are several things. The ideals that those soldiers were ﬁghting for: freedom, for people to have a normal life, not living under the terrible conditions they were during occupation in the war. That these soldiers were really young, just a few years older than me. Many of them hadn’t even left their own city or province before, when they went across the world, crossed countries and oceans, and went to a place where there was ﬁghting going on and not knowing what to expect. They still gave it everything they had, they gave up so much of their own life. Some of them gave up years of their time, some of them gave up even more, gave the ultimate sacriﬁce, their lives, for the ideal of freedom. They fought day in and day out, not sure where their next meal would be coming from, not sure if they would last until tomorrow, not sure if they would live another hour. All they knew is that they were doing a job, and they did it to the best of their ability, because if they hadn’t done it to the best of their ability, then today would look very diﬀerent.
What I don’t want to bring back is the original story that says we went over to Europe and did all of these things. I want to make people feel more connected to it on a personal level. Especially the younger generation, because I don’t think many people in my generation even think about the fact that they wouldn’t be going to school and be on their cell phones if it wasn’t for those soldiers that gave up everything. That we owe them. We owe them more than we can ever repay. But even though we owe them more than we can ever repay, we should never stop trying to repay what they did.
I think it is really important that people in my generation show up for the ceremonies of remembrance, that they learn and that they listen to the stories of sacriﬁce and the personal stories of the soldiers. The stories are incredible. Doing my research and reading the stories of D-Day, of what they went through and what they did, it struck me that its just incredible for someone to make it through that, to go through that incredible journey and that incredible pain. Some of them, their journey ended in the war, some of them continued on and their journey ended after they came back to society where people praised them for what they did, but not a lot of people understood what they did. I think we should still be praising them, and I don’t think their story should be forgotten with the last of the World War II veterans. There aren’t too many of them left. We should cherish their stories and cherish what they did for us. I hope that future generations will remember what they did, and that we will never forget what they went through and what they did for us. How much they impacted our lives, even though we haven’t met them. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
I want to end with the last blog post I wrote for the trip, which was not published, as I think it captures both the experience and the impact it has had on me the best and I really wanted to make sure it was read.
Caleb Erb Blog, Juno 75, July 11, 2019. Reflection, Day 9 The American and British Sectors
So today we started off our day visiting the German WWII cemetery. Very similar to the First World War cemetery, there were not a lot of German ﬂags or ﬂowers around any of the graves, except for a few, which really interested me. One of the graves was Michael Whitman.
If you don’t know, Michael Whitman was a 12th SS tank commander and was considered to be one of the best tank aces in the war. It was kind of crazy because he was a Nazi soldier in the SS and believed in that philosophy. Nevertheless, people still paid respect to him because he was a great tank ace, and Scott said people paid respect to him and ignored that he had that ideology, which is unique. After that, we headed to Omaha Beach, which is important to me because my Great Grandfather was a reinforcement sent in to replace the soldiers killed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. It was a really amazing thing to see the cemetery and all of the white crosses. We learned that the families of the Americans who were killed there had a choice to be buried in France, or have their bodies sent back to America to be buried there. So about half of the dead from Omaha on D-Day are buried in France, and half were sent home to the U.S., which is crazy to think about because there were so many crosses and that only represented half of the dead from that day. It was really cool to walk down the grass path to the crosses because in the movie Saving Private Ryan, the ﬁrst scene and the last scene of the movie, the old veteran is walking up and down the crosses ﬁnding the graves of his friends who died to save his life, was ﬁlmed in the exact location that we were at today. The Cemetery was really well kept up, and it was huge; a lot bigger than the other Commonwealth Cemeteries. It was really beautiful and there was a lot of art there. It was a really interesting place to visit. Next up, we visited some tank batteries and learned about the positioning of artillery so they could shoot over Omaha beach. Then we went to the amazing 3D movie in Arromanches 360 Circular Theatre. It was honestly one of the best WWII movies I have seen in my life. It was inspiring, and it was also very heart-breaking and sad at the end seeing all of the casualties. I think it really showed what the young men went through to free people under the Nazi regime.
The next part of the day was one of the biggest highlights of the trip for me. We went to a French town that had a population of only 94 people in WWII. Even with such a small population, they do have a big part in recovering the soldiers that served there. The night before D-Day, the American, British, and Canadian Forces dropped hundreds of paratroopers to take over key points prior to the invasion. Everything was going well for most of these landings, except for one. A plane full of British and Canadian paratroopers and glider landed off-course by 12 kms and were forced to march to Reneville. On the way, they passed through a small town, Saint Vaast-en-Auge, where 12 men were killed in a battle with the occupying Germans, one which was a Canadian. The Canadian that was killed was the Great Grandfather of Alyssa, one of the students on our Juno75 trip. She got to make her presentation about her Great Grandfather during the ceremony in that small town, which was really moving. After the presentation, they had a surprise for us. The surprise was we got to ride in WWII Jeeps. We toured around the small area where the paratroopers landed, and saw what the town had done to commemorate the soldiers that had lost their lives for their freedom. There was a monument and a museum with information about each one of the soldiers that died ﬁghting to free the town. Something that really stuck out to me was, Scott said it meant a lot to the village for Canadians to come and visit them during the ceremony and to show that they never forgot what Canadians did for their country, but also that we as Canadians never forgot what men and women from Canada did for France and their town. Overall just a really cool experience. I had a great time riding around in a WWII Jeep and this experience I will never forget for the rest of my life.
I have a little conclusion to my blog post about this trip. It has inﬂuenced my life in tremendous ways and I will never look at soldiers the same after this trip, knowing what they stood for, what they fought against, and the conditions that they fought in. It was truly inspiring to me and made me want to pursue my career in the military even more. I certainly hope I can be half of what these men were. I also want to thank all of the guides that helped out, especially Scott, Alex, Leslie and Dan. I want to thank them for organizing this trip and supporting it. I also want to thank the BC Veterans Commemorative Association for sponsoring me to go on this amazing trip. It has truly changed my life in ways I will never forget, that I will pass down to my children, and hopefully they will pass it down to their children so that we will never forget what these men did and what sacriﬁces they made for the people of France, and the rest of the world. Thank you again everyone for changing my life.
Juno 75th Student Pilgrimage, 3 – 14 July 2019, on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.
Juno Beach Pilgrimage Essay – Francesca Lapore
July 4th 1944, the clouds were dark and heavy; it seemed as though another unsettled summer day was upon the city of Brussels. It felt as if the sun had not shined in many years. It seemed almost impossible that the sun would shine over a country stricken by war. Soldiers were roaming the streets, monitoring all civilians, and maintaining a constant fear for those in Nazi occupied Belgium. The Canadian soldiers who subsequently arrived in Belgium felt that same fear as they fought for peace and freedom. July 4th 2019, was the day I arrived in Belgium. It was a bright sunny day full of promise. Seventy-five years ago, Belgium was a very different country than it is today. A blissful buzz of excitement filled the air as I made my way to embark on my journey of remembrance.
As my trip unfolded, I experienced a wide range of emotions all regarding the sacrifices made by those who fought in Belgium and France. The sacrifices made by soldiers during both World Wars were further explained during this once in a lifetime experience. It deepened my connection and understanding of Canada’s participation in the war. Throughout my journey, I visited a variety of historical sites which furthered my appreciation for the sacrifices made. Visiting the historical sites of the First and Second World War brought to life what I have learnt. Although learning about Canadian history in school is effective, it is more impactful to visit the locations. The most impactful aspect of the trip was visiting the countless cemeteries throughout France and Belgium. After seeing the uncountable number of graves, I was able to comprehend how many casualties there were. It was heartbreaking to comprehend that each soldier, who’s grave I visited, had a family and a story.Many of the soldiers were not much older than myself and it was learning about their stories which made me realize the extent of their sacrifices.Furthermore, each Juno Beach participant researched a soldier prior to the trip. This allowed us to connect to the First and Second World War by learning about different soldiers’ journeys.
This experience has also helped me gain another perspective and it has strengthened my knowledge on Canada’s participation in the First and Second World Wars. Many soldiers lost their lives fighting for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that I am now able to live because of them. At times I feel shame because my only concern seems to be about which iPhone I should buy or what new clothing I should be purchasing. To them, I owe my comfortable life as a grade 12 student at Heritage Woods, in Port Moody. None of this lifestyle would have been possible without the sacrifices and the risks endured by the participants in the First and Second World Wars. I feel by learning about the past we can further develop as a nation and learn from these mistakes. In the words of Anne Frank, “What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it from happening again.”. The past allows us to learn and spread a message of hope, that there is a better tomorrow. This trip has given me the opportunity to learn about the past and be hopeful for the future.
As a result of this experience, I now have a better understanding of Canada’s contribution. I embarked on a journey of remembrance on July 4th 2019 and I came back striving to inspire others to do the same.Prior to this, I learnt about the war efforts through textbooks, personal stories, and videos. All of these sources have certainly increased my knowledge and understanding of war and, at the same time, giving me perspective. However, visiting the battlefields in France and Belgium in the summer of 2019, gave me the ultimate experience and deepened my connection with Canadians who fought in WWII.
Juno 75 Student Pilgrimage, 3 – 14 July 2019, on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.
My Reflection – Max Redmond
After being home for two months, I am grateful and humble for my experiences in Belgium and France as part of the Juno Beach Center’s 75th anniversary commemorative pilgrimage. Whether it was visiting Paris and seeing the beautiful Eiffel Tower or spending time at the Vimy Ridge Memorial, each and every part of this trip was incredibly fun, educational, and meaningful. It taught me many things about my country and what it means to be a Canadian and I am so thankful.
As a Canadian, my favorite part of the pilgrimage, was when our group visited the Juno Beach Center. It was interesting to see the actual beaches of where all the landings took place during D-Day. Another highlight, as a Canadian, was when we got to spend time in the small village known as St. Vast en Augeé. We got to be a part of a ceremony in front of the entire town (although it was quite small). I had the opportunity to read off the names of fallen soldiers who died liberating the village from the Germans. It was surprising to me how happy this village of just under 90 people was to see us. It gave me more perspective on the French view of Canadians during the Second World War and how thankful they still are to Canada.
As a citizen of BC, I felt more connected to the sacrifice of individual soldiers from British Columbia because of our time spent at the graveyards. In particular I saw the graves of Private Henry Connor and Trooper Alton Calvin. deceased British Columbian soldiers including It really made the massive loss of life that occurred whilst taking back France and the rest of Europe from the Germans in both world wars, a land so far away from British Columbia. On a personal level, I had the memory of my great grandfather, Dave Rodger and the role he played as a Dambuster, at the back of my mind, throughout the whole trip.
Finally, I also really enjoyed the French cuisine and the camaraderie of the other students and guides from across Canada. I absolutely loved the food we were given, and was really nice after a day of constantly moving around, to sit down and enjoy a 3 course French dinner amongst friends.
The trip has changed my outlook on Canadian history and the way I view the past. I now have observed first-hand artifacts and have heard first and second-hand accounts of people’s experiences during the war. It’s only now that I’m starting to realize how lucky I am to have gotten selected to be a part of this experience. I have already begun sharing this knowledge with my peers and teachers in my social studies classes at Kitsilano Secondary School in Vancouver.