July 23, 2008

History taken down a notch

Ok, so I have learned about WW2 in school. I have heard about it on TV. I have read about it in books and magazines but the truth is and I hate to admit this, it kind of bored me. It just didn't touch me close enough to home. It was a time that I just couldn't comprehend.

Well things are very different now. We were all at the kitchen table in Candle Lake, Saskatchewan and the kids and I were doing a puzzle and Graham and his Grandpa Elwood were talking. The conversation came around to WW2 and the allied invasion of Europe in 1944 and Elwood began to recount for us the Canadian invasion of Juno Beach in France.

"We arrived at Juno beach in boats and we were all unloaded into the water. We were in our full gear and boots and heavy packs and guns. The water was up to our necks and for some of the men it was over their heads. Right away we started to struggle. Trying to make our way to shore with all the weight on us, was hard. Several men began to drown and we were trained to keep moving and we weren't allowed to stop and help. We made it to the beach facing a hail of bullets from the German positions: there was no time to stop and catch your breath or take a break. Gun fire was on us and we had to "clear" the German bunkers on the higher ground at the edge of the beach. We fought in lines. The first line would go forward and fight and then drop and then the second line would go forward and drop. It gave each team a few moments to reload, etc. As your friends would get hit and wounded around you, you had to just keep running. Months of training had been drilled into us that if you stop you would never get started again. We fought for a week solid with no rest. We had a bit of reprieve from the gun fire at the end of the week, enough so that we could get a bit of rest. We ate biscuits that swelled up in your stomach and made you think you were full. We drank any water we could find and put tablets in it to purify. "

As we sat and listened, it became so real. History wasn't something we couldn't see, it was one soldier, telling his story. It hit us all. The kids had stopped their puzzle at this point. I had moved closer. We were pouring over pictures and memorabilia. Everything seemed so clear now.  The gratitude I felt was overwhelming.

Wouldn't we be lucky if all history lessons could be taught by someone making the history. Taken down to an intimate level that we can all comprehend. The kind of level that makes us ask all the questions that fill in the blanks because we are so drawn in.

Elwood went back to Juno beach for the first time in 1995. He had a picture of it. It looked beautiful. He described how strange it felt to stand there. He also had a picture of the endless rows of graves of all of the Canadian soldiers. He said that this is when his emotions really rose to the surface, as he walked around and saw so many of his friend's names.  

I can't thank Elwood enough for sharing his stories with us. It was a couple of hours that none of us will ever forget.


  1. History shrinks if you consider it in generations instead of years.
    Only 1 generation ago there was the US civil rights movement and segregration in schools. There was the cold war and constant threat of nuclear annihalation.

    Only 2 generations ago there was WW2 and the great depression. First nations in Canada weren't allowed to vote.

    Only 3 generations ago there was WW1, residentials schools were peaking, the century turned and Alberta and Saskatchewan had just joined Canada!

    Some things that seem so far back are actually closer than you think.

  2. Hi guys - just checking in on Griff and Chery's site when I saw your link and decided to check up on your adventures. What a great story, and so meaningful for you all! It is the stories of such personal life experience that brings the reality of these times home to us. I wish many more young people today had the opportunity to hear the impact of war and the patriotism of those who served...Lest we forget.

    Aleitha Ward

  3. Several of our friends have returned to Juno Beach and they were also very moved by the experience.I can not imagine how terrifying it would be to go through something like that!It is impossible for any of us who have never been to War to even imagine the horrors of it.The Legion does send Veterans out ,every year to Schools to tell their stories,but there are not many Veterans left who are healthy enough to do that any more.When we were in Lynchburh,Virginia,we visited a hige Memorial ,in which they had built a re-enactment of the Landing at Juno and the other beaches and there was life-size replicas of the soldiers and also the firing and the shots pinging off the water.We were there before it started and once the sounds were turned on,a few old Vets who had been standing on the wall above the Site,threw themselves to the ground at the first sounds of gun-fire.They had been there and their instincts kicked in!WE all had a good laugh about it later on when we were discussing it all.This Memorial was the biggest and the best one I have ever seen ,so far.Canada featured prominently in it too,which we thought was great!THere were Veterans to ferry us all around the Site in little Golf carts and who were in the War and told us their own personal accounts of it.It certainly was an eye-opener for us younger ones.As Aleitha has said "Lest We Forget" !!

  4. Sorry Julie but I did it again and didn't sign my name to the last one :( Gail