Journey to Juno Beach
One item on our list of ‘must-dos’ for our global field trip was to visit the Canadian War memorials in Normandy and Belgium. So, we left the hustle and bustle of Paris and headed north, with our first stop being the Juno Beach Centre.
The Juno Beach Centre is a new, modern building located on the beach just a few hundred meters from the water’s edge. Just outside the main doors (to the left in the photo above) are several pillars with the names of individuals, schools, and corporations who have provided financial support for the centre. You too can make a donation and have your name or organization included on a blue plaque.
Upon arrival, we purchased our tickets and then began with a 45-minute guided tour of the grounds and out onto the beach itself. The tour guides are all bilingual Canadian university students who apply for the roles on an annual basis, and spend seven months at the centre. Our tour guide, Emily, was from Ottawa and she brought us first to an underground German command post, which had only been opened to the public in April of 2014.
It was explained to us that when this command post was built, the Germans really did not think that there would necessarily be an invasion from the sea. The rooms were relatively comfortable – there had been wood paneling installed on the walls and ceilings in order to make the space warmer. The defences were not as ‘tight’ as you might expect.
The second area we were taken to was an observation post, which was built in later years. The post was of a standard design used in different locations throughout all of the German defenses. The walls were 2 metres thick and made of reinforced concrete. These structures were well designed and made with an Allied attack in mind.
We then ventured out to the beach. It was low tide and there was a fair amount of space between the sand dunes we were standing on – and where the observation post was – and the edge of the water where the Canadians would have landed. We tried to imagine the beach filled with obstacles placed by the Germans to slow the Allies down – barbed wire, mines, “hedge-hogs”, and large pyramid-shaped obstacles used to tear holes into the hulls of the ships. The landing Canadians faced a well-defended position.
From the beach, we went into the visitor’s centre to explore the displays and to better understand the conditions leading up to World War II. Our visit began with a film in a small theatre which was laid out like one of the landing vessels used on D-Day. The film was projected 300 degrees around the room, and gave a quick sense of what the soldiers would have seen and heard leading up to their launch on the beach. It really set the mood before exploration of the displays.
Leaving the theatre, you begin by exploring a timeline of events and contributing factors which lead up to the war, such as immigration and The Great Depression. This helps to set context as to why the war started. Next, onto the declaration of war, the use of propaganda on both sides, and daily life both on the front lines at back at home. There are numerous displays of personal effects from Canadian soldiers, such as letters, medals, and uniforms.
Finally, our time at the centre wrapped up with another short film entitled “They Walk With You”. This film uses actual wartime footage along with voices of soldiers expressing how they are feeling, what they are seeing, and what they are experiencing. There was not a dry eye in the theatre when the lights came back up.
As an educator, the Juno Beach Centre was an excellent learning experience. I contacted them in advance to see what was available and they provided us with some fabulous resources.
After touring the beach, underground command post and observation post, we went into the centre to learn about the history of WWII and the details about DDay. The centre is engaging and interesting for kids of all ages. It was fully multimedia with audio and video in both languages and had hands on activities to support and engage all different learning styles.
I was able to download in advance a number of resources to prepare the girls for our visit. There was a secondary quiz for Mikhaila, which focused on immigration, war propaganda, the key players in the war, and contemporary Canada. For Zoe, there was an elementary version which helped introduce her to the real people of the war. Both girls were actively engaged while doing their quiz and it brought us through all parts of the centre. It sparked a lot of great conversations in the car, which is when some of the greatest learning can occur.
As a Canadian I was incredibly moved by the whole experience. One could not help but think about the soldiers who gave up their lives. Not just on the beach that day – but also for the next three months as they moved towards Caen, France.
After the centre we visited Canada House, the first house the Canadians were able to liberate from the Germans. It filled our hearts with pride to see how well kept it is and the maple leaf flying so briskly.
We finished our day by visiting the Canadian cemetery which was a very emotional experience for all of us. For anyone to see all of those graves and read about the young men who gave up their lives was incredibly powerful and moving experience.
We will never forget.
At Juno beach, we went on a tour and our tour guide taught us what the soldiers had to go through when they arrived on the morning of D-Day – June 6th, 1944.
Some of the obstacles the soldiers had to deal with were concrete pyramids that were bigger than me, which the boats and tanks had trouble getting around. When they stepped on the beach, the machine guns would start firing at them. They had to go through rows of barbed wire to get to the other side of the beach. If they got past that, the pillboxes would spray more bullets in their direction.
From hearing these horrible stories and how much the soldiers sacrificed, it reminded me how good we have it in Canada.
After the tour we went to the Visitors Centre and had a quiz that we could do while we went through the museum. We learned about about how in the 1930’s people around the world had lost their jobs because of the bad economy during The Great Depression.
Some interesting facts:
- Today the average age of a veteran from The Second World War is 91 and they would have joined at the age of 21.
- It takes thirteen and a half hours to list all of the names of Canadian soldiers who died in World War II.
- Most of the soldiers who fought in that war joined young and some who died were only 16 years old.
My overall feelings are that I think that we have every thing so good because of the sacrifices made in the battles during World War II. We should all remember the soldiers who died for our freedom. Also, think about what life would be like if that war did not happen, or if the allies had lost.
Before we visited the Juno Beach Centre, I didn’t really understand D-Day and why it was so important. The Centre was amazing and gave very detailed descriptions of the battle, as well as the lives of the soldiers and people at home. We also did some quizzes which took us through the rooms of the museum which made our visit more enjoyable.
My favourite room was the one that explained propaganda, which are posters that tried to convince young men to join the army. There were many examples of propaganda as well as a video.
We also went on a tour outside on to the beach and into a German observation point and command post. We were able to see where the battle took place and how difficult it must have been for the Allies to win.
After visiting this site, I now realize how important it is to remember those who had suffered so much for their countries.
The Juno Beach Centre is a beautiful and moving tribute to the Canadians who died during the D-Day invasion and throughout the Battle of Normandy. As Canadians, we have studied WW II in school history classes, and have participated in Remembrance Day ceremonies. For our family, having the opportunity to stand on the beaches where the Canadians attacked and died has really given us the context around events leading up to the war, and has greatly improved our understanding and appreciation for what the soldiers went through.
Every Canadian should visit Juno Beach.
After this visit, our family really can say “We shall never forget”.