Nova Scotia

Halifax D-Day ceremony commemorates journey of Canadian soldiers to Juno Beach

From Halifax, many soldiers were sent to join allies and storm Juno Beach in France in the remarkable military and political achievement known as D-Day. To commemorate its 75th anniversary, the Canadian government hosted an event in the Nova Scotia capital today.

City was chosen because it was the Canadian port that sent many soldiers to war  

About 14,000 Canadian soldiers joined Allied forces to storm Juno Beach on June 6, 1944. The battle started the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi occupation during the Second World War. (Dennis Sullivan/Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada)

Long train journeys across Canada in 1944 ended in Halifax, the departure point for many soldiers on their way to join Allied forces and storm Juno Beach in the remarkable military and political achievement known as D-Day.

Approximately 14,000 Canadian assault troops fought in the battle that began the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi occupation.

D-Day would come at a terrible cost. Among 1,074 Canadian casualties, 359 were killed, according to the Canadian War Museum.

The Canadian government hosted an event in Halifax today to commemorate the 75th anniversary. The city was chosen because it was the Canadian port that sent many soldiers to war.

The ceremony, held at the Willow Park Armoury, included Second World War veterans, their family members, and Gov. General Julie Payette, who had been in France earlier in the day.

"Less than 12 hours ago, my team and I and a delegation of Canadians had our feet dug deep in the sand of Juno Beach," Payette said.

She spoke about the Canadian soldiers who cleared both the beach and the sky on June 6, 1944, and the 359 men who died doing so.

"This was just the first day."

Memorial ceremonies are necessary to remember the sacrifices made by Canadian veterans, she said.

"But one of the important lessons we get from this is a lesson of hope. The reason, at the end, was to provide a free world, opportunity for all to live a free life, and that is a message of hope."

Gov. General Julie Payette told those attending the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Halifax that the event honours the sacrifices of those who served and offers a message of hope for future generations. (CBC)

Don Julien, a Mi'kmaw historian and human rights advocate, is a peacetime veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who served in Cyprus.

He spoke at the ceremony of Pte. Charles Doucette, of Membertou First Nation, who landed on Juno Beach with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and died on June 7, 1944.

After surrendering to the Panzer division of the German army with 17 other Canadian soldiers, Doucette was one of 12 North Nova Scotia Highlanders who were executed by the Germans on June 7 and 8, Julien said.

In February 1945, a boy playing at the site found a jaw bone, and an investigation by Canadian military authorities found a grave site that contained the bodies of Canadian soldiers, including Doucette's.

The bodies were exhumed and laid to rest at Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Normandy.

"As a Mi'kmaw peacetime veteran, thank you for the opportunity to pay tribute to all Canadian troops," Julien said.

"On behalf of the Mi'kmaq, thank you for your sacrifice, as well as all the Canadian soldiers that participated in the D-Day operations on June 6, 1944."

Mi'kmaw historian Don Julien told the story of Pte. Charles Doucette of Membertou First Nation, who landed on Juno Beach with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Doucette was among 18 Canadian soldiers captured by the Germans and executed over the next two days. (CBC)

Doucette's daughter, Marie Doucette, attended the ceremony, as did some of his grandchildren.

Richard Tilley also stepped forward to speak about his father, the late Harold Tilley, a sailor who's featured on the official poster commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

"One of the most significant events of his life was his participation in D-Day," Tilley said.

The young sub-lieutenant had just finished training in England and was scheduled to go on leave, but he volunteered instead to be the navigator for three large landing crafts, each 48 metres long.

Marie Doucette, daughter of Pte. Charles Doucette, attended the D-Day ceremony in Halifax on Thursday. (CBC)

He said his father was a good navigator, but had not been trained on these particular boats.

"So there he was at the age of 20, German bombs were being dropped around them, and there was shell fire from the shore," Tilley said.

Nevertheless, they successfully landed the troops and turned around to get more. But they sustained damage and the vessel was sinking.

"In Dad's words, 'We turned around smartly and dashed back onto the beach again.'"

Richard Tilley spoke about the D-Day experiences of his late father, Harold Tilley, who was just 20 years old when he navigated three large landing vessels onto Juno Beach. (CBC)

When the tide went out, they dodged live mines surrounding the vessel.

"He was a good navigator, but I think he was a lucky one, too.

"As a family, we are very proud of Dad, and we hope his legacy, and that of many others, can be passed on to future generations."

Harold Tilley died six years ago of causes directly attributable to his wartime service.

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