Monday marks 67 years since men like John Surtees of Kelowna landed on Juno Beach in Normandy, France and faced down crack German troops sent to repel the invaders.
It’s not a day that Ursula Surtees remembers personally, although she was living in England at the time, but her husband-to-be was part of the Royal Canadian Dragoons in the 2nd Canadian Division and one of those who landed on the beach that historic day.
He was also one of those who survived the landing. Many didn’t.
June 6, 1944 is known today as D-Day, the day of the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe by the Allied armies of Britain, Canada and the U.S.
It turned out to be the day that World War II turned around.
Their victory in Normandy during that historic assault led eventually to the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
John Surtees was just one of 14,000 young Canadians who stormed Juno Beach on D-Day.
A former curator for the Kelowna Museum, Ursula Surtees is particularly aware of the importance of people remembering their roots; their history, so she penned a poem to remind them of how bravely our young men fought that day.
“Most people see the day come and go, and no one thinks about what our country would be like today if those valiant people hadn’t been on the beach that day.
“Too few people realize what a huge event this is in Canadian military history,” she says.
She says crack German troops were stationed on the cliffs overlooking the beach where the Canadian troops landed, but the Canadians persevered, despite the casualties, and conquered the Nazis.
Although she admits that her husband spoke little about the carnage that day on the distant beach before his death in more-recent years, she said he was also among the first Canadians to liberate Holland.
“People brought out the wine they’d saved for a special occasion. That was a wonderful experience for him,” relates Surtees.
The couple met in England during the war years before moving back to Kelowna.