FREDERICTON, N.B. – It’s now been 75 years since our magnificent Canadian soldiers went ashore at Juno Beach in Normandy to play their part the grim and deadly task of sweeping Hitler and his odious empire from Europe.
Canadians need to remember, though, that the landings on June 6, 1944, by 156,000 Canadian, British, American and other Allied soldiers along the beaches of Normandy were the hammer that battered Germany.
The anvil, the first front in the war against Hitler, was in the East, and it was against Russia that Adolf Hitler’s armies were eventually crushed in the vise created by the D-Day landings.
It must have been about 40 years ago when my military history professor – soldier, scholar and author of 1944: The Canadians in Normandy, Reginald H. Roy – reminded my classmates and me that if it hadn’t been for the anvil of the Red Army in the East, the hammer of D-Day in the West would have amounted to much less.
“We’d still be in Normandy,” was the way Professor Roy put it, and he didn’t mean as tourists like the political supernumeraries from Canada that show up now and then on a French beach on June 6.
Indeed, the chances are good that without six million soldiers of the Red Army pressing Hitler’s Eastern flank in 1944, we would not be in France at all, but for the dead and a few diplomats. About 80 per cent of the German Army’s casualties were inflicted by the Red Army, which after June 1944 cleared the Wehrmacht from Eastern Europe, wiped out an entire German Army Group and opened the road to Berlin.
Five years ago, Stephen Harper petulantly conceded that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be allowed to visit Normandy for the 70th anniversary ceremonies.
A Postmedia writer at the time wrote that “only one Soviet soldier is known to have been buried in a war grave on the Western Front.”
Fine, just don’t forget that there are something like 11 million of the poor bastards buried on the Eastern Front to make up for that.
Without them we’d likely all have had to learn German as our second language in school, regardless of whether it turned out we answered to Washington or Berlin.
You’d think from the re-heated Cold War rhetoric we heard from Mr. Harper’s Conservative government and still sometimes hear from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal one, that we’d been fighting Russia, not Germany, in 1944.
Francois Hollande, the president of France in 2014, hit the right note when he gracefully told French TV: “We may have differences with Vladimir Putin but I have not forgotten and will never forget that the Russian people gave millions of lives. I told Vladimir Putin that as the representative of the Russian people, he is welcome to the ceremonies.”
Mr. Trudeau struck a better tone this year in France. “Only those who threw themselves against the walls of the fortress of Europe in Normandy know the full extent of what unfolded here 75 years ago. But it is the responsibility of all Canadians to ensure that their story, and their sacrifice, will never be forgotten.”
This is profoundly true. We should remember too, though, that the walls of Fortress Europe weren’t just in Normandy.