Today, June 6, marks the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Invasions – D-Day as it has come to be known.
On June 6, 1944 troops from Canada, Britain and the United States stormed beaches along the coastline of Normandy in Operation Overlord. The operation, which in itself did not meet all the objectives set out for June 6, was the beginning of the end of World War II as Allied forces who landed in Normandy fought inland to defeat German troops and liberate France and, eventually, Europe.
D-Day continues to be an iconic symbol of the Allied Victory in World War II and the defeat of the Nazis. The size and planning of the operation remains one the largest seaborne invasions in history; it was a near impossible operation with troops facing German guns, almost vertical cliffs and nowhere, except the English Chanel, for retreat; and it has become a symbol of courage and commitment.
For Canadians, D-Day was a watershed moment in our collective history, a day when Canadians proved who we are and what we can do, a day that proved Canada’s independence, and a day that demonstrated to the world that Canada would, and could, fight for what is right.
When Canadians remember D-Day we think of the 110 vessels, 10,000 sailors and 14,000 infantry that landed at Juno Beach as Canada’s part in the Allied operation. But those men were not the only, or the first Canadians to land in German occupied France that day.
The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion jumped in the wee hours of June 6, 1944 to create a drop zone, destroy roads and bridges, and help keep German reinforcements from re-taking their defensive positions along the coastline.
While other units failed to meet their objectives for D-Day – most took several days to reach their June 6 targets – the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion did achieve its objectives on that day.
Their success on D-Day is part of the Battalion’s reputation for never failing to accomplish a mission, never giving up an objective once taken, for being the only Canadian unit to take part in the Battle of the Bulge and for being the Canadian unit to have gone further into enemy territory than any other.
The battalion is also an important part of Robert Land Academy’s history and continue to be an inspiration for our students and our staff.
Lt. Col. Fraser Eadie commanded the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion from D-Day through the end of the war. A member of the Robert Land Academy Board of Governors and Chair of the Board for several years, Lt. Col. Eadie provided much of the information and tradition that the Academy’s military theme is based on.
Robert Land Academy’s Parade Square, Eadie Sqaure, is named in honour of Lt. Col Eadie for his contribution to the Academy and for his service as a Canadian Veteran.
The Academy also houses a small collection of 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion mementos, including the medals and beret of Sergeant John Feduck, a member of the Battalion and close friend of the school. These are on display in the front entrance of Ritchie Hall, our main administrative building.
In recognition of the close ties Robert Land Academy has with the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, we held a small ceremony on June 6 to remember and honour the members of the Battalion and all those who took part in D-Day, especially those who gave their lives in that important invasion.
The school is honoured to count among our staff, former staff, and community supporters Veterans who served both in World War II and more modern peacekeeping missions. We invited these Veterans to the Academy for breakfast with the student body on June 6 and we spent some time talking to the students about D-Day; about the troops who fought on that day, and throughout the war, with courage, commitment and honour; and why remembering D-Day continues to be important 75 years after the operation.
After the talk the students took part in our regular morning colours, when we raised the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion flag to half-mast, and then we placed a wreath in Eadie Square commemorating the anniversary of D-Day.
In speaking with our students I recognized that the reason we invited guests, shared information about D-Day and held a parade was to honour those soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice. That we shine our shoes, prepare our scarlet uniform and practice drill not for ourselves, not for our guests and not for the Academy but we do these things to honour those who had the courage to step out onto a beach in Normandy, who laboured to meet their mission objectives, who demonstrated loyalty and commitment to their country and fellow soldiers – in all we honour them for what they did for us.
Last January I travelled with my family to France. As we came upon Juno beach I was shocked to find a wide open beach with no cover, nowhere to hide and only one way to go – forward. I can only imagine the paratroopers from the 1 Can Para Battalion knowing that the only possibility of the Canadians having success at Juno beach would be based on them accomplishing their mission objectives.
What happened in Normandy on June 6 changed the momentum of WWII. What occurred on Juno beach was another chapter in helping to create our country. So on June 6 we recognize the anniversary of D-Day and honour those who were instrumental in its fruition.