Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
At a remembrance ceremony in France this summer for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Laureen Harper, the prime minister's wife, encouraged everyone to cherish, to remember with pride, and share with others what they had learned there about Canada's involvement in the Second World War.
For members of the Young family who were in attendance, it was a message taken to heart.
"The next generation has to carry that torch," said Iris Cartwright-Young.
Family of the late Leonard Young of Stratford, a private with the Calgary Highlanders who saw action on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, shared with guests at a remembrance service Thursday their experience visiting the hallowed grounds where so many Canadians lost their lives in battle during the First and Second World Wars.
The trip was planned around the anniversary of the Allied invasion that eventually lead to victory in the European theatres of World War II. More than 350 Canadians lost their lives on D-Day and more than 5,500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces were killed throughout the Normandy campaign.
The Young family attended the June 6 ceremony on Juno beach as guests of the French consulate in Canada. They were among the hundreds of world leaders, veterans, and civilians, including young students, who attended one of the many remembrance events in France.
One of Young's daughters, Rosemary Tanner, said she was struck by the amount of security present and also by the thousands of people who could not attend in person but watched the ceremony on large screens just outside the gates. She also recalled meeting a French woman and her young niece, who thanked Tanner for Canada's efforts during the war. Tanner gave her the last Canadian pin she had with her.
She said the Normandy landings raised tremendous hope to build a world built on values of human rights, freedom and democracy.
"This hope still lives inside all of us," she added.
These comments, and many family photographs, were shared during the 12th annual remembrance ceremony hosted by the Friends of the Stratford Normal School/Teachers' College Heritage, whose past president, Jeannette Dyer, is another of the Young clan who took part in the family's France pilgrimage. The Nov. 6th service also included a performance by the junior choir at Anne Hathaway Public School and the traditional reading of the names of Normal School members who gave their lives fighting for country.
Dennis Young spoke about the Juno Beach Centre. Opened in 2003, its core purposes are to commemorate Canada's participation in the Second World War and recognize the country's emergence on the world scene, remember the sacrifices made by all Canadians - abroad and at home - and to educate future generations about the role Canada played in preserving the freedoms we enjoy today.
"The centre does a remarkable job on all three of those fronts," he said.
While the building of the museum was supported with government funds, it's ongoing sustainability is very much dependent on public donations, Dennis noted. Donors can sponsor an engraved commemorative brick that is displayed on a kiosk outside the centre. Dennis noted his father, who died in 2008 at the age of 91, was one of the first to purchase a "brick," and that just recently as a surprise he purchased two more in memory of his mother and grandmother for their contributions at home during the war.
The family also spent time at the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian military cemetery, where the bodies of more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers are buried. The property is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and at the time of their visit, the site was "aglow with flowers," said Don Young.
He noted he has visited many military cemeteries throughout Europe, and that they are all kept in immaculate condition.
"You could eat off the grass. Every one I've been to is so pristine it's unbelievable."
Because this year also marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the Young family visited Vimy Ridge and its Canadian national monument, which commemorates the Canadian soldiers killed or presumed dead in France who have no known grave.
Rick Corlett, whose wife Sharron is one of nine Young siblings, said the monument, which was designed by renowned Canadian sculptor Walter Allward – who also created Stratford's cenotaph – was "the most spectacular that I've ever seen."
The battle of Vimy Ridge, in April 1917, is viewed as a turning point in the war and a great success for Canada. It was the first time that all four Canadian divisions fought on the same battlefield. They successfully pushed back heavily fortified German forces who had built extensive systems of trenches and tunnels.
Having visited the Normandy region twice in the last five years, Corlett said each time brings new memories and sober reminders of the struggles, hardships, losses, and victories our war veterans endured on European soil.