When Gilles and I started planning our road trip through northern France, we knew there were going to be some tough, emotional moments.
This was the trip we had dubbed the History Tour during the planning phase, but to be more accurate, it should have been called the War Tour.
You see, on June 5th it is the 75th anniversary of D-Day – the landing of Allied troops on the shores of Normandy in 1944 during WW2.
This attack was the beginning of the end.
The battles that resulted along the miles of Normandy shoreline were horrific. We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy vacation, but we are part of the generation that followed that war. My father was a veteran and my mother was a war-bride. Although Normandy wasn’t a direct part of their story, this battle made my life possible.
We owe our deepest respect to those who landed on the beaches of Normandy … and so Gilles and I went.
As predicted, it was a difficult week and since then I’ve been contemplating the stories I’ve gathered, how I might tell them, and quite frankly whether I even wanted to. I know the grief I feel isn’t personal to just me … but it still leaves its mark.
Maybe over the weeks and months ahead it will become easier. I am lucky that as a Canadian, I grew up with war as something that happens far away. There is a certain sterility about war when it is just facts and figures in books or the news.
It feels very different when faced with the reality.
For the people of Normandy, the reminders are always there and they haven’t forgotten. June 1944 will be celebrated and already the preparation is there.
Banners honouring the Allies adorn the streets throughout the communities along the coast where the invasion forces landed. It was a complete coincidence that the spot where we pulled over to take photos had the banner of a Simard – my husband’s surname.
In my research of Ghislain Simard I discovered he was born in the same small town from which my husband’s family came … one of many surprises we would experience.
Simard is a very common name in Quebec, especially from the region where my husband was born. He comes from a lineage where it was not unusual for families to have 8 or 9 children. Whether or not this man is a branch from the same family tree is something we will likely never know.
At the age of 84, Ghislain Simard returned to Juno Beach in 2010 at the coaxing of his grand-daughter. It was the first time since D-Day. He is reported to have said “I spent my life trying to forget, only to find out by coming back here how important it is to remember”.
… and for men like Ghislain Simard and all those who were lost, we should never forget.