'Really eye-opening': D-Day veterans share their poignant memories with teens

Canadian veterans tell teen journalists about their roles in the Allied invasion of Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Canadian veterans tell young journalists about their roles in the Allied invasion of Normandy

On D-Day, Alex Polowin was serving on the HMCS Huron providing protection for the landing craft taking troops to the Normandy beaches. (Alex Polowin)

What happens when a D-Day veteran sits down for a chat with a teenager?

To mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, CBC Kids News correspondents teamed up on a co-production with The National, interviewing veterans who took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy.

The veterans spoke about the role they played on D-Day on June 6, 1944, and the continued impact of the war on their lives when they came home from the battle lines.

  • SPECIAL D-DAY COVERAGE: On Thursday June 6, The National's Adrienne Arsenault will host D-Day coverage from the Juno Beach Centre in France. The special begins at 5 a.m. on CBC-TV, CBC News Network and You can also watch it on CBC Gem, CBC News YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The conversations between two vastly different generations of Canadians resulted in moments that were moving, memorable and full of insight.

Here are some excerpts.

    Alex Friesen interviews Alex Polowin

    Alex Friesen, left, and Royal Canadian Navy veteran Alex Polowin. (CBC)

    Alex Friesen, a 15-year-old Grade 9 student from Ottawa, had the opportunity to interview 95-year-old Alex Polowin, a D-Day veteran who served in the Royal Canadian Navy.

    "We share the same name, but he's also got lots of different awards ... and he's got a street named after him, and that's pretty cool," Friesen says.

    The first thing that used to come to mind when Friesen thought about D-Day was the movie — until he got the chance to meet a veteran who'd been there that day.

    "Then I started thinking about the fact that D-Day is definitely not a movie ... it was an important and terrifying moment for so many soldiers who lost their lives in terrible battles. Who sacrificed themselves so that we could have a better future."

    On D-Day, Alex Polowin was serving on the HMCS Huron.

    Alex Polowin on his ship during the Second World War. (Alex Polowin)

    His ship had been doing Russian convoy missions, sailing from Scotland to Murmansk to deliver supplies to support the Soviet war effort. As D-Day neared, HMCS Huron was assigned to patrol the English Channel.

    The job of the ship and its crew on D-Day and for days afterwards was to protect the landing craft and other vessels near the beaches of Normandy.

    As part of that mission, HMCS Huron and other ships from the 10th Destroyer Flotilla ran into German destroyers in the English Channel and engaged them, putting the German vessels out of commission.

    Friesen asked Polowin what it was like to be part of a battle at sea:

    Alex Friesen interviews Alex Polowin

    3 years ago
    Duration 0:45
    Second World War naval veteran Alex Polowin tells student Alex Friesen what it was like to be on a ship being attacked by the enemy - and to fight back.

    For his service in the Second World War, Polowin was awarded the Atlantic Star, Artic Star, 1939-45 Star; the Diamond Jubilee Medal, Russian Peace Medal, Order of Ushakov and the French Legion of Honour Medal. He also has a street named after him in Ottawa.

    "It is important for the younger generation to know these stories and listen to these veterans talk about their past," Friesen says. "It's important that we remember all they did they for us and to remember to be grateful for everything that we are privileged to have, and the world that we are privileged to live in."

    He adds that sitting down to speak to Polowin was, "really eye-opening" for him.

    "It was just having that human connection and hearing someone else describe first hand what they saw and what they went through. I remember he talked about when he first found about that they had won the war, and hearing him talk about it I could only imagine that feeling of joy and relief, and words that can't even describe it."

    Arjun Ram interviews Colin Brown

    Arjun Ram, left, and former Canloan officer Colin Brown.

    Thirteen-year-old Arjun Ram of Hamilton, Ont., spoke with 95-year-old D-Day veteran Colin Brown.

    During the Second World War, Brown served as a Canloan officer with the 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 15th Scottish Division. Canloan officers were trained Canadians loaned to British units in the field that had suffered heavy losses among their infantry officers.

    "I didn't learn about D-Day in school," Ram says, adding that he wanted to interview Brown because, "I find it really brave that he, that they marched their way into Normandy ... I really like how brave and how hard he fought."

    Colin Brown and his unit during the Second World War. (Colin Brown)

    During the interview, Ram asked Brown if he would do it all again.

    "Oh, I suppose so," Brown replied. "I wouldn't be quite so eager … who wants to fight another war? Don't human beings know that nobody wins? It just destroys a lot of people's lives and whole countries."

    When Ram asked Brown about his most vivid memory from the war, the veteran told a story about a little girl he met during the fighting, and what happened years afterwards:

    Arjun Ram interviews Colin Brown

    3 years ago
    Duration 0:45
    Veteran soldier Colin Brown tells student Arjun Ram his favourite memory connected with the war - meeting a little girl during the fighting near Brussels, and then getting to speak to her again 70 years later on the anniversary of D-Day.

    Saara Chaudry interviews Thomas LLoyd Bentley

    Saara Chaudry, right, and Royal Canadian Air Force veteran Thomas Lloyd Bentley. (CBC)

    The oldest veteran interviewed by CBC Kids News was 98-year-old Thomas Lloyd Bentley. He told 14-year-old Saara Chaudry about serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

    Prior to D-Day, Bentley was stationed in Egypt and England. On D-Day itself, he flew several missions to deploy paratroopers behind enemy lines on Juno Beach.

    Chaudry said the opportunity to meet a D-Day veteran was, "special and something to be grateful for.

    "I learned about D-Day, and World War One and World War Two, in school this year. So it's really incredible to actually kind of sit down with people [who were there]. It's not just a textbook anymore, it's a real human connection … I'm really excited to just hear their stories and understand their experiences and their life."

    During the interview, she asked Bentley to share his most vivid memory from D-Day. It involved transporting the often horribly wounded soldiers away from the battlefield during the D-Day invasion:

    Saara Chaudry interviews Thomas Lloyd Bentley

    3 years ago
    Duration 0:43
    Thomas Lloyd Bentley, a veteran of the Second World War, describes in stark detail to student Saara Chaudry what it was like to deal with the often horribly wounded soldiers being transported away from the battlefield during the D-Day invasion.

    Watch The National's full feature on D-Day veterans sharing their stories from Juno Beach:

    Canadian D-Day veterans share stories from Juno Beach with young people

    3 years ago
    Duration 10:01
    For the 75th anniversary of D-Day, CBC's The National worked with young journalists to interview veterans about their memories from that fateful day.



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