British Columbia

Vancouver man returns to Dunkirk to pay respects for grandfather he never knew

Shane McDonald's grandfather was killed on the beach in Dunkirk, France in 1940 during the evacuation of Allied troops during the Second World War. Almost 80 years later, his grandson is back on the same beach to pay his respects.

Thomas Michael McDonald died on the French beach in 1940 waiting for evacuation

Shane McDonald flew to France to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies in honour of his grandfather who died during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. (Shane McDonald/Twitter)

Thomas Michael McDonald was killed during the Second World War on a beach in Northern France, and nearly eight decades later his grandson has travelled to the same shoreline to pay his respects and say thank you for his greatest gift — Canadian citizenship.

McDonald never knew his grandfather, a British soldier who died on the beach in Dunkirk in 1940 during the evacuation of Allied forces.

But, the soldier, who had spent time in Canada as a young man, instilled a love of Canada in his own young son — Shane's father — before he was killed when the boy was six.

Shane McDonald said his father had been told about a "wondrous mystical far off place" by his own dad, and moved here as a newlywed to raise his own family. Shane McDonald, who grew up in Canada, always felt the need to see where his grandfather had made the ultimate sacrifice.

He finally made the journey this Nov. 11.

"I can't imagine the hell it must have been," said Shane McDonald by phone from France on CBC's The Early Edition. 

He said it was an emotional experience to walk the beach where he said his grandfather spent days with over 60,000 other soldiers waiting in the sand for a rescue that never came.

A relative remembered

Shane McDonald also found his grandfather's name on the local memorial and attended Remembrance Day ceremonies in Dunkirk. He said the ceremony was so emotional for him he had to return to his hotel mid-day to compose himself.

But, he said, there have also been joyous moments. He said many French ceremony attendees took notice of his Canadian pin he is wearing with his poppy and it has sparked conversations with the locals.

"I don't know whose English or French was worse ... but the actual meaning behind the conversation was one hundred per cent understood," said Shane McDonald.

Shane McDonald said standing on the blustery beaches of Northern France made him reflect on his own father, who lost his dad as a child, and feel overwhelmingly grateful for the childhood he had that was largely due to a man he never met.

"Part of his posthumous legacy, I truly believe, is I am a Canadian citizen," he said. "He gave me one of the greatest gifts any parent or grandparent can give."

To hear the complete interview with Shane McDonald, tap the audio link below:

Vancouver's Shane McDonald reached out to us on twitter to tell the story of why he is in northern France for Remembrance Day. So we reached back. 11:40

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