Before the June 6 ceremony, André Boudreau sprinkled some sand from Juno Beach inside the Wedgeport Legion.
Boudreau, secretary of Branch 155 of the Royal Canadian Legion, wanted those who came to a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day to know that despite the geographical separation, they were actually closer to Normandy, France than they may have thought.
Of course, no one’s thoughts were far from June 6, 1944 – and the days and weeks that followed – when the Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy from the air and sea in what was the greatest battle of the Second World War. Codenamed Operation Overlord, the Allied landings marked the start of a campaign to liberate northwest Europe from German occupation.
It was a successful battle, but it was also a costly one. More than 5,000 Canadians alone died during the campaign with another 13,000, approximately, from this country wounded.
Seven soldiers from the catchment area of the Wedgeport Legion lost their lives during the liberation campaign – Arthur John Surette, 27; Anthony George Surette, 31; George Leonard Fitzgerald, 23; Percy Joseph Boudreau, 24; Robert Francis Boudreau, 21; Louis George Cottreau, 28; and Joseph Lawrence Babin, 25. Their names were read during the ceremony.
“French people know how much they owe to Canadian soldiers,” said Robert-Yves Mazerolle, the honorary consul of France in Halifax who was present for the ceremony. “They actually made it possible to live in a peaceful country where democratic principles prevail.”
There were nine who served during the Second World War present at the ceremony, including veterans Wesley Spinney, 95, and Alcide LeBlanc, 99, who are Knights of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour – the highest French distinction.
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“You were both very young men when you took part in the D-Day and on behalf of the French people I wish to highlight your bravery and your dedication in the name of core values,” Mazerolle said. “The values of justice, tolerance and freedom, which guided you then are still meaningful today and show the way to younger generations.”
Mazerolle said that all us further spreading these values is a way we can honour the ultimate sacrifice made by so many who fought and/or died on the battlefield.
“This is the only way we can pay the eternal debt we have to them,” he said.
Those who served during the Second World War were presented with special legion pins during the ceremony.
It was poignant to watch Wesley Spinney – who joined the navy at the age of 18, – standing, his body trembling as he’s aged, for the singing of O Canada and the playing of The Last Post. Flanked by his wife on one side to help keep him steady, she gave him a loving, warm smile as a moment of silence drew to a close. One could only imagine what thoughts were going through his mind during those two minutes of silence.
Several dignitaries spoke during the ceremony and poems were read.
Legion president Clifton Saulnier read the poem ‘Just a Common Soldier – A Soldier Died Today’ written by A. Lawrence Vainourt. Saulnier’s voice, at times, choked with emotion.
“He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast, and he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past. Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done. In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, everyone . . .
“If we cannot do him honour while he's here to hear the praise, then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days. Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say, Our country is in mourning, for a soldier died today”