Return to Normandy 60 Years Later: A Trip to Remember

[Recently found in some files of my Dad’s, he wrote this based on their trip to Normandy in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of the invasion. He was 79 at the time of the trip. — sandy]

Tues. June 1st 2004.

We were delivered to Terminal #1 at Toronto Airport at approximately 7.30pm, the new terminal is very nice but expansive so one could get lost very easily. We checked through by 8.30pm and were bused to the International Section, (gate 528) and waited for scheduled 10.25 departure. We met Eileen Harris from Calgary and her daughter Pat Armstrong from Kingston, Bill and Shirley Gunter from Ottawa and Bob and Joyce Strachan from Medicine Hat Alberta but were delayed, for no explained reason, for takeoff until 12 mid. We had a rather rough ride at times and arrived at Heathrow (London) airport at approx. 12 noon, their time, Wed and met up with Jack and May Rimmer and Jack’s brother Art from Montreal and Charlie and Lorraine Robinson and their son Glenn from Montreal plus some other X Navy personnel, that at that time were unknown to us, and left by Macpherson’s bus line for Portsmouth. We had a great bus driver, Harry Macpherson, who had arranged to stop at Greenwich to tour the Maritime Museum and to view the location of the Meridian but by this time we were starting to tire even though the places were most interesting so proceeded to Portsmouth and arrived at Sandringham Hotel at 8.10pm on June 2nd. Checked into room #109, had dinner in their dining room and were in bed by shortly before midnite.

We had a call the next morning at 6.30am, showered, and had breakfast and were ready to go to Yeovilton (the Fleet Air Arm Museum) by 7.45 am , 21 of us went but most of the ladies stayed at the hotel. We arrived at the Museum at 10am and had a guided tour by a very knowledgeable volunteer, the whole setup was most interesting to see and they had many realistic movies about aircraft carrier landings and takeoffs as well as planes , from the sopwith camel down to modern day aircraft which even included a Concorde that we could board and examine. We had a short lunch and were back at the hotel by shortly after 2 pm where we had a few minutes to get dressed in our blazers, medals and berets and were bused to Caslefield (green) on Southsea (Portsmouth) where we were entertained by The Edmonton Pipe and Drum Band and Her Majesty’s Royal Marine Band as well as a group of Navy Personnel doing marching and rifle drill. Prince Charles arrived approx. 4.30pm. The veterans had front row seats and our companions had good seats at the edge of the field with a good view and the Vets were invited to a Reception for the Prince where we were able to have a short visit with him and shake his hand and enjoy lots of free drinks supplied to us as well as a special bottle to take home with us in commemoration of that day. Our ladies met us at the reception for a few minutes and then returned to the hotel where we caught up with them around 8pm for dinner and were back in our rooms by 11pm after a most interesting and enjoyable day.

On Friday we were up to the sound of the fire alarm at 6.30 and after breakfast we left by bus for the Portsmouth Memorial Naval Dockyard where we visited Nelson’s ship (The Victory) and browsed for a while at his Museum and then had lunch and boarded The Warrior, an 1860 sailing ship which also had a steam engine driving a disappearing propeller, it was over 400ft long and has been very beautifully restored. While we were in the dockyard the group was invited to board the Canadian Frigate “HMCS Charlottetown” by it’s Skipper and were given a tour of the ship by a “very able”  Able Seaman. We left the Dockyard at 1.30pm and attended a Reception put on for 2 Canadian groups by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth and his wife at the City Hall where we were served biscuits and tea and enjoyed a very interesting visit. We left the City Hall and visited the D-Day Museum near the Hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon visiting that, they have a very remarkable presentation depicting D-Day completely embroidered by a group of dedicated women. We met Tiny Clarkson from Troy NY and some of his buddies from the States and some of them were supposed to come over to our hotel that night for some entertainment. We returned at 5pm, cleaned up and had a bit of a rest so that we could enjoy a 40’s musical presentation at 8.30pm as we have to get up at 5am in the morning to leave for France. Tiny Clarkson and one of his buddies came over for a while and after they left we all turned in around 11pm.

On Sat. we were up at 5am and left for the ferry docks at 7am and left at 8.10am for Le Havre. We had a short nap and lunch on board the ferry and stood on deck 10 and watched the departure and arrival on a very calm English Channel. We arrived in France at 2pm and immediately lost 1hour as their time is 1 hour ahead of British time.We boarded our bus and left for Juno Beach Centre to get clearance passes for the beaches but found out that we didn’t need them and after a short look around we left at 6pm and arrived in Rouen at 8pm. The bus driver and tour guide had difficulty finding our hotel, thank goodness for Glenn Robinson as he is fluent in French and English, for being able to converse with people on the street. We put our things in our rooms and went down for dinner and, after much frigging around, we had a very good meal at the Comfort Inn and were back in our room (312) by 10.30pm where we unpacked and went to bed because we were to have a wakeup call at 5am in the morning.

On Sun.we didn’t remember the time change and didn’t get a wakeup call so most people were on the bus ready to leave when we showed up but we bummed a bit of breakfast from some who had brought breakfast with them, thanks Pat.We arrived in Caen at approx. 8.30 am and reported to Central Commercial Ct. and were informed that our own bus would be allowed to take us right in to the Juno Beach Centre. It was a beautiful sunny day in the mid 20’sC when we arrived at 9am and reported in at the Centre where the Veterans and their Companions were seated in the front rows (3) of many rows of bleecher seats. We met Woodrow and Virginia Blakely and had a short visit before the ceremonies started at 9.50am with greetings to the Vets and then the entrance of Paul Martin followed by Adrienne Clarkson who in turn was followed by the Queen and Prince Phillip. We were addressed by all of the above and they then circulated through our midst and chatted with a lot of us. The Vets then paraded loosely down onto Juno Beach and had a rather sentimental gathering there.We proceeded to a reception of sorts where they served champagne and we had an opportunity to purchase lunch. We departed at 2.30 pm for Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Military Cemetery and were met by the Mayors of 2 local localities and were individually called up and presented with a beautiful chest medal honoring us for what we did 60 years before and for returning for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. We returned to Juno Centre and looked at the displays there and took the bus to Berniers-sur- Mer and walked the remainder of Juno Beach. We sat and enjoyed a cold beer and were treated by the Municipality to a cold buffet including lots of red wine, this was a free dinner for the vets and their companions in honor of the 60th anniversary and we were given some keepsakes constructed by the school children to take home with us. We left at approx. 9pm and were in the hotel in Roen just before 11pm after a long, tiring but rewarding day.

Mon. was a beautiful day in the mid to high 20’sC. Ken Wood took sick yesterday at the Juno Centre and was taken to Caen by ambulance where the kept him in and did Angioplasty. We were told that he might be able to continue but it could be treacherous but he was visited by Adrienne Clarkson and her entourage this afternoon and they contacted the insurance co. and are going to fly he and his wife home to Canada on a Sanitary Flight (medical help available) as soon as possible.We left this morning at 9am and left Ken’s wife and Glenn Robinson for the day and picked them up on our return in the evening. We visited the Abbaye de Ardenne where Kurt Meyer had Canadian prisoners of war executed in 1944 and held a short service in their remembrance and each laid a poppy at a bronze memorial tablet containing their twenty names by the wall containing most of their pictures. We visited the Memorial of Caen where we had lunch and looked through the exhibits of D-Day. The veterans were presented with Commemorative Certificates bearing their names for the 60th anniversary and we were given a special showing of 2 films done on and after D-Day. We left at 5pm to go to Arromanches-les- Bains which is where I landed on D-Day on Gold Beach. Helen and I walked down the beach while I reminisced. They have an excellent museum on D-Day and the building of the Mulberry Harbour. The Americans also landed near there on Omaha Beach so the place was alive with them and their reconstructed vehicles, a very large crowd so we had a cold beer at a sidewalk café and left for Roen at 7.45pm. We were at the hotel by 10 and walked down for a bit of supper and then packed ready to leave tomorrow morning for Vimy Ridge at 8.00am.

Tues. We left the hotel in Roen at 8am and arrived at the  Canadian Section of Vimy Ridge at 11am. We looked through the information centre and walked over to look at the beautiful monument they have to honor the Canadians that fell at Vimy Ridge on Apr. 9th 1917 and some others that have no known burial place that were killed during WW1. We ran short of time but were most grateful to one of the Guides who gave us a 20min. Tour of one of the underground (9meters) tunnels that were used by the Canadian soldiers at that time,(glad I was in the navy). We left Vimy at 11.45 and arrived at the ferry at Calais in time to leave shortly after 1pm (noon British time) had lunch on board and reached Dover, went through immigration and were up town in Rochester, Kent by 4.45pm where we had a walk about and left at 5.30 and were in Dartford by 6.30pm. We checked in at the Hotel Campanile, Dartford Bridge and had dinner there at 7.30. To bed early as we are getting up at 6am. To leave early for Inverary, Scotland.

Wed.  We left the hotel in Dartford and headed north on the London by-pass (what a line-up of traffic) and arrived at the National Memorial Arboretum at Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire around 10am. We looked around and attended a Memorial Service in the chapel at 10.55 and left at 11.30 after all the vets were presented with a beautiful War Veterans pin from the British Government. We stopped at a rest stop, attended to things, had a drink and left for Scotland. We stopped in a tourist trap place and went to the washroom about 4.30pm and arrived in Inverary by way of Glasgow and Loch Lomond at 7.30pm. Inverary is a beautiful place and we had a large room with a 4 poster canopy bed in the Inverary Best Western. We were served a great dinner and all were tired so we retreated to our room at 10.30pm because it is away again in the morning but not quite so early.

Thurs.  We had breakfast at 8.00am and took a walk around town, we visited a tourist centre but couldn’t get the e-mail to operate even with help from a local girl. We left on the bus at 9.45am and took a very informative guided tour of Inverary Castle, the home of the 17th Duke of Argyle. We returned to the hotel and changed into our # 1’s and left at 12.30pm for a reception at the Loch Fyne Hotel put on by the local Council where we were treated to a 2 course luncheon with a drink before and coffee after.The bus dropped some off at our hotel and the remainder (17) took a tour across country on the bus, passing through Ardentinny and many other small picturesque villages that dot the countryside. We stopped for afternoon tea at Dunoon and were back at the hotel by 5.30pm. in time for a rest, change of clothes and to dinner at 7.00pm. An excellent singer and accordian player started to play during dinner and continued until 10.30. We even enjoyed a dance or two while he played.

Fri.  Up at 7.00am, had breakfast and were in the bus leaving for Oban by 9.15 over a back road known by the driver that was most picturesque with many cattle and sheep in the fields. We arrived at 10.15 and visited the Oban Distillery, we were shown and had it thoroughly explained the whole process of distilling their 14 year, single malt scotch whiskey which proved so interesting that I bought a bottle on the way out. I visited the Oban Service and Wartime Museum and was interviewed by the local press. I had lunch and boarded the bus at 2.00pm and left at 2.30pm by a different route back to Inverary and were at the hotel by shortly after 4.00pm.We visited a nearby store and made a few purchases and were back to our room by 5.00pm and cleaned up and changed clothes for dinner at 7.00pm. This was our last meal as a group that we had come to know over 10 days so we signed cards for some that would be celebrating their wedding anniversary and his birthday (Jack Rimmer) this week and next. After a great dinner some gave speeches and readings that were most enjoyed by all and we were back to our room by 10.00pm to prepare for our journey back to Canada tomorrow

Sat.   Up at 6.00am, had breakfast and left at 7.30 for Glasgow airport where we boarded Air Canada and left for Toronto at 10.00am. We had a very quiet flight on the way back and arrived at the International terminal at #1 terminal of the Toronto airport at approx. 2pm but were well over an hour getting our luggage so had ample time to say our last goodbys to friends that we had met and traveled with for the last 12 days. Deb and Doug picked us up and took us to their place but we left at 4.30pm and were back at the cottage at 7.00pm

This whole trip was a very memorable experience and I’m sure that it will be remembered by all for many years to come.

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