In January of 2000 I went to the south of France to celebrate the start of the last year of the millennium with friends. After the celebrations, I took the TGV high speed train to Paris for a week. 1999 was a good year, and I booked a first class seat, which meant I got seated in a cabin of about 8 seats at the front of the car.
There were three people besides me in the cabin. A rather strange fellow who both offered up scrawled, broken samples of poetry and kept on trying to convince me that I should be involved in Nigerian oil and diamonds (needless to say my comprehension of his French and broken English was surprisingly low that day) and an older couple who seemed to be rather disapproving of the both of us.
Eventually the hustler managed to pry from me the fact that I was Canadian. This had little effect on him, but the change in the older couple was profound. Suddenly they were fluent in English and more than willing to talk. What they had to say first stuck me: they thanked me for my country’s help in the war, for Juno beach. The man shook my hand, his gratitude some 55 years later surprised me.
Growing up not so long after the war, the contribution of Canada to the battle was something we knew well. We were taught to never forget (although I mistakenly thought what we should not forget was to be intolerant of human rights violations, something we’d forgotten by the time Rwanda happened, but that’s another matter).
What we never really learned was how much our efforts were appreciated by those we liberated. By how much respect we gained by punching well above our weight in WW2, and to the extent that those we liberated would never forget our sacrifices.
I salute the amazing men and women who went to such extraordinary lengths to achieve such a great feat.