LETHBRIDGE - The Royal Canadian Legion General Stewart Branch held a brief wreath ceremony on Wednesday, June 6, at Lethbridge Cenotaph to commemorate the 74th anniversary of D-Day.
The Normandy landings were the landing operations on June 6, 1944, of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II.
D-Day, which was codenamed Operation Neptune, was the largest seaborne invasion in history.
The operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.
Legion President Michael Cormican says it's a privilege for him as President, on behalf of their members, to conduct this simple act of remembrance.
"We want to give our thanks to those who participated in D-Day and the days following in the liberation of France. The wreath ceremony is to help make the public aware of D-Day, the largest sea operation during the Second World War. Planning for the operation began in 1943, and they had planned another attack alongside it to try and throw the Germans off," Cormican said, adding eventually it worked.
"It didn't work as fast as they had planned, but they took over the northern coastline of France, and even though the Germans knew something was happening they focused on the second operation," Cormican continued. "But they still put up a big fight at Normandy, and as a result, it took them a couple of months to get one of the five towns they hoped to get."
Next year will be the 75th anniversary, and Cormican is hoping by raising awareness now they'll be able to get the attention of more and more people ahead of next year's event.
"Hopefully people will start asking questions if they're not aware of the history itself. Maybe they'll ask someone they know about the wreath-laying ceremony they saw as they drove by. We want people to let anyone in their family who are veterans know and they would identify themselves to us in preparation for next year because we want to start planning for the 75th anniversary."
The Royal Canadian Legion upholds the act of remembrance across Canada with many community ceremonies big and small, to foster a sense of pride and pass on to the youth of the past military service, sacrifice and commitments Canadians have made and continue to make in the defence of Canada.
There was also a special guest on hand for the ceremony, Joan Ross, who lives in Lethbridge and is a veteran herself of the Royal British Airforce from 1962-65.
Ross lived in England during the war, and her husband actually jumped into the water on this day 74 years ago.
"D-Day was sort of the beginning of the end for most of the English people, they were just waiting for some kind of relief [from the war]. I was a child living in the south of England, and when the Americans arrived they were camped all around us and we knew that something was happening because there were so many people and so many soldiers around," Ross said.
England had been at war for about five or six years by then, and Ross says they were all very fed up with it especially the kids.
"We had sort of nothing, you know, and we had to carry these stupid gas masks around with us. Woe betide you if you were found without your gas mask."
When the operation was being carried out, Ross and the people of England didn't know immediately whether everything had gone well or not but they did know the basics.
"That they were successful in getting off the beach. We didn't know what the actual outcome was, you heard rumours but certainly we knew it was significant."
When asked how important it was for Ross that the story of D-Day continues to be told year after year, she said that as long as she's alive she will continue to tell it.
"I was so proud of my husband John, you know, and he was so proud of his own career because he did six years during the war. Then he was discharged, and he liked it so much he decided to go back and served another 28 years or so," Ross stated.
John was a signaler, according to Ross, and he had to send the word 'blood' back to his mates if the attack was successful, and it was.
"The military was his life, and he was a great man, he really was. I think he gained the respect of a lot of people, and I miss him dreadfully but I'm going to try and talk about what he and the others did as well. Unfortunately, in the first Canadian Parachute Battalion, there are only about five left, most of them have gone."
Ross says John was one of the last to hang on, before he passed away on Jan. 27 of this year, at the age of 97.
"I was pleased when Glenn [Miller] called me and asked me to come out because I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do when I was on my own for D-Day, it was very important to me," Ross continued. " I'm usually working in the Senior's Centre on Wednesdays, I help with the meals there, and I told them that I wouldn't be there this morning."
In reflecting on what today means to Ross, she talked about the reunions she and her husband would take almost every year with members of the first Canadian Parachute Battalion.
"I just feel so proud of what our guys did. I always will, and especially on D-Day. Because hearing John's experiences from this day about landing more or less right on target, and that the first thing he heard after landing was a cow. They couldn't see it because it was pitch black at night, and of course he got ready to do battle, but the cow didn't want to do with a battle," Ross said with a laugh, adding that only 32 landed at that point and the rest were scattered all around.
Those 32 took their objectives, Ross said, they did what they had to do and she couldn't be more proud of that.
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