War remembrances, for many of us the only date we know is November 11 – Remembrance Day – the day when World War I came to an end in 1918.
June 6th is also an important historical war date, D-Day. The events of that day in 1944 went a long, long way to bringing World War II to an end on September 2, 1945.
This past June 6th was the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the occasion was marked on two different European fronts, on two different days! D-Day is remembered on June 2nd in Monte Cassino, Italy and on June 6th on Juno Beach in Normandy, France. Thousands of people attended ceremonies in both locations this year, and one of them was Alan Mitchell of Lyleton, MB.
Mitchell has been a member of Air Cadet Squadron #263 Intrepid in Melita since 2005 but his interest in war goes back much further than that. Two uncles served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and his wife’s great-grandfather served, and died, in World War I. Alan still possesses and prizes the Silver Cross medal that he was posthumously awarded! His son and daughter-in-law are both in the military and have served in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. So, he has past, and present, reasons to be interested in Canada’s wartime and peacekeeping involvement!
Mitchell joined squadrons from Dauphin and Winnipeg on a tour to take in both D-Day commemorations this year. First was Monte Cassino where he and about 250 others remembered ‘Italian D-Day’, that day when Canadian planes bombed an abbey high atop a hill that rose almost 2000 feet. German soldiers had taken possession of this strategic location, and when the bombings didn’t result in surrender, Canadian soldiers scaled the hill, defeated them in combat, and seized control of the abbey. These events led to Italy’s liberation from German occupation. Four days later, after stops at the Colosseum and the Vatican, Mitchell was on Juno Beach in Normandy, France, with 5000 other people, listening to the likes of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe as they honoured those who lived and died to win the battle of 1944. Mitchell was moved as he visually took in what our soldiers had to go through to gain that victory. Standing on the beach, he realized, like never before, that there were two battles won that day – the battle against German forces and the battle against the natural elements! As Canadian flags lined the beach, he felt especially proud to be a Canadian.
He also noted that the French and Italian locals were proud of Canadians! They were greeted with hugs and kisses, and even more so when in military uniform! He took time to visit cemeteries holding the remains of slain Canadian soldiers in both locations, and observed how meticulously they were maintained out of respect for what Canada’s soldiers had done for them. As well, he visited a war museum in Normandy where detail after detail of Canada’s D-Day involvement are on display.
Nine days after his tour began, Mitchell returned home with a sample of sand from Juno Beach, and a deeper understanding and appreciation of what Canadian soldiers went through for the sake of the peace that most of our world knows today.