Volume 94, Issue 3

Friday, June 2, 2000


The day the world stood still

Charging the beach:
D-Day remembered

The day the world stood still

Gazette File Photo
THE INVASION BEGINS. Taken just after the Normandy invasion, the canvas on the tank was part of the floatation device used to carry the tank onto the beach.

By Stephanie Croft and Rachel Houlihan
Gazette Writers

"I am Canadian!" yells the guy in the beer commercial.

It seems today's image of a Canadian is someone who drinks beer, plays hockey and wears a toque. Canada's national identity, while it is often defined by modern day beer commercials, has a much deeper history younger generations often overlook.

On June 6, 1944 Canadians had a very different idea about national identity. We were victorious. We conquered evil. We invaded Normandy.

If the guy in the beer commercial had been born 50 years earlier, he could have been a soldier in the Canadian forces that landed on the beaches of Normandy and helped put an end to the Second World War.

Unlike the First World War, the cause of W.W.II was not ambiguous. "Canadians were fighting to defeat the Nazis," said Dean Oliver, senior historian at the National Canadian War Museum. "Canadians were more unified around the cause in W.W.II – quite prideful and noble."

Oliver noted D-Day was a critical turning point in the war both on and off the battlefield. "Modern Canadians associate D-Day with the beginning of the end of the war. That victory, for most Canadians, is the mitigated triumph over evil."

Oliver also said D-Day helped shape Canada's sense of nationhood and pride. "It really was a glorious thing. Canadians were intimate players in helping to win the war. We counted for one fifth of the forces. D-Day is remembered as a great Canadian success story."

But not every Canadian remembers, or even knows about Canada's important role in D-Day. "The great majority of people don't know anything [about D-Day] except for what they get in movies," said retired Western history professor Jack Hyatt. "History is infinitely better than most movies."

Hyatt said movies like Saving Private Ryan, which was celebrated for its realism, do not tell audiences the truth about the war. "The first twenty minutes gave a realistic, if not horrific impression of the war," Hyatt said. "But the rest of it was just a fancy, if not insulting."

Students at Western have their own perspectives on the events that transpired on June 6, 1944 and the impact D-Day had on Canadian history.

"I saw Saving Private Ryan but I don't know as much about the war as I should," said Chelene Krezek, a graduate student in plant sciences who had two great uncles die in the war. Krezek said D-Day mostly makes her think of Remembrance Day, although she is quite proud of what her relatives went through.

Marc Johnson, a third year engineering/computer science student, had a great uncle who was a paratrooper who landed on the beach in Normandy. "It wouldn't be the same planet if Canadians had not become involved," Johnson said, although he could not remember the date of D-Day.

"The problem is that most people haven't read anything about W.W.II," said Hyatt, who taught history for 35 years at Western. Hyatt recommends reading Captain Correlli's Mandolin, an informative book about W.W.II. "If you can read that book and still be indifferent to the war, I'll eat my shirt."

Hyatt said he was worried younger Canadians will forget their country's heritage and the sacrifice that was made on the beaches of Normandy. He said he fears future generations will know even less as time passes.

"Veterans are very concerned that younger people don't know much about the war," he said. "The events are too important to Canada to forget."

As each year passes, the number of living Canadians who participated in the war declines. "Just remember," Hyatt said he often told his students. "In your lifetime, the last survivor of the Second World War will die."

The Who's, What's and Where's

- D-Day occured June, 6, 1944

-The battle plan for D-Day was known as Operation Overlord

-130,000 allied troops from Great Britain, the United States and Canada invaded the 75 km stretch of beach in Normandy

-15,000 were soldiers from the 3rd Canadian Division

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