Main Page and Map | Links | Contact



Juno Beach Landmark

Tuesday, June 6, 1944 the Allies launched their assault on the Atlantic Wall, Hitler's vaunted shield of steel and concrete. That event, the like of which will never been seen again, was described by Stalin as unique in the history of warfare.

Canadians were an important part of that invincible armada. On 1 June the first Canadians began to board their ships and by 4 June everything was in readiness. D-Day had been set for June 5 but drenching rain and fierce winds forced a 24-hour postponement. When a brief break in the bad weather was forecast for the following day, Eisenhower with the words "OK, We'll go." launched seasick Canadian, British and American soldiers for Fortress Europa. Eight hundred years earlier another great fleet sailed in the opposite direction. Led by William the Conqueror, the Norman invaders faced little resistance when they landed on the south coast of England. The same cannot be said for the reception received by our Canadian soldiers.

Across the channel German meteorologists had told Hitler heavy weather would prevent an invasion for at least a fortnight. This reprieve was welcomed by Field Marshal Rommel whose maniacal mind had made possible the Atlantic Wall, the massively fortified shoreline with menacing mines, metal obstacles, machine-gun nests, pillboxes and heavily fortified concrete bunkers, all intended to easily to repel the Allied invading forces. Satisfied he had done his work well, he promptly left for home to celebrate his wife's birthday.

The Germans were caught napping for 'Neptune', the code name for the assault phase of the invasion, went ahead. At the crack of dawn soldiers left their mother ships seven miles off shore and in assault craft on a rough sea, headed for Rommel's zone of death. At the order down ramp, they jumped with rifles held high into the waist-deep water and waded up the sloping beaches of Juno to the waiting Wehrmacht's withering fire.

The Wehrmacht Awaits

It was on this vast stretch of sandy beaches, irregularly interspersed with coastal towns, that on June 6, 1944 the Queen's Own Rifles touched down on Juno Beach at 8:12 a.m., seven minutes late due to a sea so rough the supporting Sherman tanks had to be landed directly on the beach rather than floated ashore.

Arromanches, a seaside town on the beaches of Normandy, was the site of a man-made port considered essential to the success of the invasion. As early as June 7, the second day of the landing, steps were taken to create two artificial harbours on this beach. Their nature and purpose were concealed under the unlikely code name 'Mulberry'. The component parts were constructed in the United Kingdom and assembled on the far shore "to facilitate the unloading of supply ships off the coast of Normandy, France, immediately following the invasion of Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944."

An Overview of the Beach at Arromanches
photo by

The concept for the Mulberry was Winston Churchill's. He directed that "They must float up and down with tide. The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution worked out. Don't argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves." Sixty antiquated ships were sunk under the weight of half a million tons of cement and 100 huge reinforced concrete caissons. Two hundred caissons were produced. The 60-foot masonary monsters were towed across the Channel by 1500 horsepower tugs. Once in place intake valves were opened causing them to fill with water and sink. Mobile jetties and platforms were then attached.

Each Mulberry harbour consisted of roughly 6 miles (10 km) of flexible steel roadways code-named Whales) that floated on steel or concrete pontoons called Beetles. The roadways terminated at great pierheads called Spuds that were jacked up and down on legs which rested on the sea floor. These structures were to be sheltered from the sea by lines of massive sunken caissons called Phoenixes, lines of scuttled ships called Gooseberries and a line of floating breakwaters called Bombardons. Two Mulberries were constructed: Mulberry A at Omaha Beach and Mulberry B at Arromanches. Mulberry A was destroyed by a ferocious storm. Mulberry B although damaged was quickly repaired and operated successfully. Today only remnants remain of these engineering masterpieces.

A Remnant of Mulberry Harbour
photo by

What's Left of Winston's Port at Arromanches on the Normandy coastline.

On the day of our visit to Juno beach, it was overcast and still. The silence of the Sabbeth morning was broken only by the sound of the waves. The low tide made it possible for us to walk out a quarter mile or more on the sandy beach littered with rows of dark green seaweed. In a matter of minutes a heavy fog rolled in from the sea and engulfed us in a gray mist that matched our sombre mood as we reflected on how it must have been that day amid all the din, danger and death.

Bernieres-sur-Mer Beach Front
photo by
G. Wilson

The fighting focal point for the Canadians at Bernieres-sur-Mer was the Tudor half-timbered house widely featured in the newsreels of the D-Day landing. This familiar structure was used as both a bearing and a bullseye by the invading troops. Its roof and walls were pock-marked with bullet holes but surprisingly, the building itself survived largely intact.

It still stands. Enlarged and completely refurbished, this stubborn survivor of the fierce fire fight that took place that day is quite impressive. It was immediately recognized by the veterans and recalled for the aging ex-soldiers that distant day when as callow youths they fought for a foothold on the Normandy beaches.

Another invasion - of privacy
photo by
G. Wilson

We studied this foreign yet familiar building, closer, perhaps, than common courtesy called for. Clearly visible through an open, downstairs window, several people sat at the breakfast table sipping coffee and chatting animatedly, seemingly oblivious to the prying eyes of the peeping Toms and Tinas outside. In the cramped front yard, a small child played, pausing occasionally to peer at the people who arrived in steady stream to stare and save the scene on film.

To the left of the stucco house there was a row of white beach-houses over which flew a Canadian flag.

Further along the beach on a paved area named Place du Canada, there was a sign bearing a red maple leaf and the words Juno Committee - Remembrance Way. Along this section of the beach, there were also memorials honouring Canadian soldiers.

Nearby another marker contained these words.

"On this beach of Saint Aubin on the 6th of June, a beachhead was established by the North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment of Canada opening the way for the Commandos of the Royal Marines."

Not far from that was bronze plaque right beside a German gun position, which had inflicted many casualties, bearing the words:

"Here on June 6th landed the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada."

One of our party who had been an ambulance driver during the war, paused beside this marker and read aloud a letter she had received from a soldier in the Queen's Own. She said he had written it to her shortly after landing. After describing the fighting and commenting on the stiffening resistance faced as they pushed inland, he mused about his chances of surviving the war. Six days later he was killed.

There was a large exhibit featuring a Second World War military vehicle beside a sandstone monument bearing the inscription in French and English:

"Here on the 6th of June, 1944, Europe was liberated by the Heroism of the Allied Forces."

Heroism Hallmark
photo by

A red Maple Leaf identified a massive marker dedicated simply:

"A Tous Nos Morts." [To All Our Dead]

Another plaque contained this inscription in French.

"Le Regiment de la Charudiere du Canada
Commanded by Lt. Col. Paul Mathieu
Disembarked on this beach at 7 hours on the 6th of June, 1944."

Among the memorials to the victors, there were menacing monstrosities of the vanquished - large concrete bunkers from which heavy resistance caused heavy casualties. These four to six feet thick behemoths were impervious to most shell fire. Besides the bunkers there were gunsites and machine gun pillboxes. Residents took these grim reminders of that terrible time in their stride, seeming almost oblivious to them and their signifcance. Tourists on the other hand gazed in wonder at these awful eyesores and closely studied each in turn.

Flowers Failed to Dignify the Indecent
photo by
G. Wilson

Another Brutal Bunker
photo by
G. Wilson

The capture of Caen was crucial and Canadian soldiers encountered stiff opposition there and at the nearby Carpiquet airfield which they were ordered to take. Their opponents comprised a crack unit of Hitlerjugend, "little boys who never had a chance to become the little boys they might have been." These fierce, fanatical young Nazis of the 12th Panzer SS were commanded by Colonel Kurt Meyer, known as "Der Schnelle" 'The 'Quick'. Despite fanatical fighting on the part of its defenders, the Canadians took the airfield at a cost of 371 casualties out of some 2000 engaged.

The German observation post was in a church tower, part of the ancient Abbey of Ardenne. We located the Abbey and it was difficult in that peaceful place to imagine the carnage that had occurred there.

Abbey of Ardenne
photo by
G. Wilson

Fighting resulted in prisoners being taken on both sides. A number of Canadians had been captured who were wounded and disabled. Meyer, impatient with the prisoners he considered an impediement to his advancing troops, was quoted as saying, "What shall we do with these prisoners? They only eat up our rations." They were summarily executed in the garden of the Abbey where they were hurriedly buried to cover up the crime.

The tragedy is told on a simple, black plaque a foot square mounted on the side of the bullet-scarred walls of the gray, stone Abbey. Its message in English and Frence is coldly concise.

"In Memory of 27 Executed Canadians."

photo by
G. Wilson

Today the Abbey gardens are in private hands. Its owners, who regularly receive requests from Canadian tourists to visit the site, admit only family members of the men buried there. They may also allow other Canadians entry if arrangements are made in advance by the tour group.


The D Day assault on Normandy's coastline was a triumph purchased at a precious price by those who fell. Visiting these peaceful places now, veterans pause and read the names of friends frozen in time. And they remember.

Short days ago we lived.
photo by
G. Wilson


Copyright © 2013 Website Administrator