D-Day and The Fort Garry Horse Armoured Corp
In 2008 we embarked on a journey to follow the path that Tracy's grandfather took in WWII from Juno Beach inland. We knew that he was a tank driver with the Fort Garry Horse so with a little homework we found a record of their movements following their landing at Courseuller-Sur Mer.
Ironically, the journey started here in Birch Hills, Saskatchewan, which is also the ending of the story. After surviving the war, Tracy's grandfather was tragically killed at work leaving behind four young children and her grandmother. Tracy never had an opportunity to meet her grandfather and her father never really knew his dad. The journey to France was, in part, a touch point for understanding who Nelson Stewart was and what he had accomplished.
Viewing Courseuller-Sur Mer today it is difficult to imaginge the scene 74 years ago. It is a tranquil seaside town. the beaches are long and flat. From the beaches, the land is relatively flat and rolling. The countryside is beautiful.
As we moved inland, it did not take long to find the first plaque commemorating the efforts of the Canadian forces. Town after town, plaque after plaque. Some were very plain, while other provided details of the actions that took place along with the names of those killed during those actions.
It's really quite a sobering experience once you start to add up the cost of young men that gave themselves to the war. You get a mixed feeling of great pride and sorrow, and maybe more importantly, you feel a tremendous appreciation for the soldiers. There was nothing easy about their task. There are still numerous bunkers and obstacles that bear witness to the fighting that took place. The gun battery at Longues-sur-Mer is a good example. The bunkers can be visited and explored. Some are in reasonably good condition while others are smashed to hell. The forces from the explosives that blew apart metres thick reinforced concrete are hard to imagine.
In the end, I think the pilgrimage did bring us all a closer to Nelson Stewart. In his short life he was a part of something incredible; incredible courage, commitment, sacrifice...
The efforts of the Canadian soldiers do not go unnoticed to this day. The Canadian Cemetary at Beny-sur_Mer is kept in immaculate condition. If you have never had the opportunity to venture to Europe to explore the battlefields of WWII, know that the women and men of Canada that dedicated their service to the war was a greater sacrifice than you might imagine.