Today is a day like any other. Summer temperatures are setting in, so people are taking full advantage of the beautiful weather to ride their bikes, have socially distant visits with friends, and go for walks. Everywhere you look, children are playing, and the sky above is a bright blue, dotted with puffy white clouds. The last thing on most people’s minds is the anniversary of a wartime invasion in far-off Europe. And if it was, they wouldn’t spend more than a few minutes to dwell on a military operation 70-odd years ago that paved the way for Allied victory in World War Two.
In another world, one untouched by the coronavirus, I would be standing on Juno Beach in the Normandy region of France today. Juno Beach was one of five sections of beach along the Normandy coast that was stormed by Allied Forces on June 6th, 1944, an event better known as D-Day. Although soldiers from the U.S and Great Britain, along with representatives from several other countries, participated in the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy, the storming of Juno Beach was special. The attack on Juno Beach was led by Canadian forces, making up 14,000 of the 21, 000 troops who landed on it . That’s why it mattered so much to me as a Canadian to have the chance to stand on the same stretch of beach that my countrymen landed on during that fateful day. After the initial D-Day landing, these men, along with the rest of the invasion force, would go on to liberate France and the Netherlands, slowly beating the German forces back to Berlin where Russia’s Red Army was waiting for them. It was the turning point in the war for the Allied Forces, giving them the foothold into occupied Europe that they needed to succeed. But these victories did not come without devastating losses. On D-Day itself, there were an estimated 10, 000 Allied casualties, and 209, 000 by the end of the the Battle of Normandy.
One of those 209, 000 estimated casualties was my own great-great uncle, George Eagle, who perished on June 9th, 1944. He had served with the 25th Armoured Delivery Regiment(the Elgin Regiment), and was killed after the tank he was in made a wrong turn and came face-to-face with a German tank regiment. He was 20.
Since his body was unable to be claimed for burial, he was commemorated on a memorial at the Bayeux War Cemetery, dedicated to the soldiers who perished in the Battle of Normandy and have no known grave. This memorial was the reason why I had wanted to go to Normandy this year in the first place, and it led me to learn all I could about D-Day and the Battle of Normandy in order to prepare myself for the trip. As always happens when I start researching a historical event, I turn to books to find my information. Today, on the 76th anniversary of the D-Day landings, I have compiled a list of three great books about the Normandy invasion that will help teens and pre-teens to grasp the concept of the event without getting bogged down in the details.
On Juno Beach by Hugh Brewster:
For Canadians wanting a factual guide to their country’s involvement in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, this is the book for you. It explains the events leading up to D-Day, the roles Canadians played in the invasion of Normandy, and the aftermath beautifully, with lots of pictures to illustrate each section. This book may be a little young for readers 13+, but still delivers a less confusing story-of-events than you would find in other non-fiction books.
I Survived: The Battle of D-Day, 1944, by Lauren Tarshis:
This fictional account of the Battle of D-Day, told from the perspective of a French boy in the resistance, is another great addition to an award-winning children’s history series by Lauren Tarshis.
After Paul discovers an American paratrooper in a tree near his house, he finds himself swept up in a resistance operation. Their mission? To sabotage German defences to prepare for a mass invasion of Allied Forces.
Like all of the books in the I Survived series, this book is a quick read, but well worth it. You really feel like you’re witnessing the events right alongside Paul, and that helps kids to better understand what’s going on by seeing someone just like them living through it. I was waiting for D-Day to be covered in I Survived for a long time, and this take on the events did not let me down.
Allies by Alan Gratz:
Although the first two books I’ve listed are simplified enough to make the events of D-Day seem pretty straightforward, in reality it was organized chaos. So many people were involved, and different roles played, that it would be impossible to divide attention to all of them equally in a single book. But Alan Gratz’s Allies comes fairly close.
A Canadian paratrooper, an African-American medic, a member of the French resistance, and a British tank driver are just a few of the fictional characters represented in this book. It’s refreshing to see so many different perspectives of a single event, and I definitely learned a lot from each account of D-Day found in the book. As is becoming Alan Gratz’s style, all of the characters’ stories are interconnected, which not only makes for an interesting read, but demonstrates the teamwork and reliance on others that was needed for the invasion to be successful. There’s no place in war for someone who thinks they can win all on their own.
As the years pass, fewer and fewer people are marking the anniversary of D-Day. Those who do are often the ones who were alive when it happened. But even they are dwindling in number each year. Without oral retellings, this story could slowly fade into the background over the next 20 years. That’s why it’s important to talk to the veterans and the elderly in your life before it’s too late. If they’re taking their memories of D-Day to the grave, who knows what other stories and traditions we’ll lose when they pass away?
However, thanks to people like the authors listed in this post, the stories of D-Day are being preserved for future generations, in the forms of books, interviews, and movies. They may not have the first-hand accounts of the events like we do, but they’ll still have lots of resources to use that will ensure that the Battle of Normandy will continue to be remembered for centuries to come.
Whatever you’re doing today, stop for a moment to reflect and pay tribute to the brave men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, parachuted behind enemy lines, provided air cover, and cleared the sea of mines and explosives on this date 76 years ago. It’s because of their sacrifices that we are able to live our lives freely today, and have the ability to stand up for what we believe is right. Today, join me in marking the anniversary of D-Day, and remembering the people who put their lives on the line for our freedom.