By Darren Westwood –
What started out as a whim a couple of years ago, with many hours “in the saddle” since, turned into one of the most life-changing trips I have ever taken. I am so honoured to be part of Wounded Warriors Canada, a Canadian Charity Organization to honour and support Canada’s ill and injured Canadian Forces members, Veterans, First Responders and their families. And, with that, in the early hours of D-Day June 6, 2019, 75 years to the day since allied troops landed, a group of 130 maple leaf clad cyclists “landed” on those very same beaches.
This was the culmination of seven days and 550+ kilometres of cycling from Dieppe to Juno Beach, with a multitude of stops in between to honour all the fallen Canadians who fought in the Battle of Normandy. Their sacrifices on D-Day alone numbered 1,075 men, and over the course of the entire battle, almost 18,700 Canadians gave their lives to allow us and all the other allied countries to live the lives we have today. Thank you to each one.
What made our trip so exciting, as we had cyclists from Halifax to Victoria, was the fact that we had an original Juno Beach Veteran with us for the whole ride as well (at right). We were able to be there on D-Day, 75 years on, when Russel Kaye stepped back onto the same beach he had stormed those many decades ago. It was absolutely mind blowing trying to imagine what was going through his mind. For all of us it was a sight that will truly be once in a lifetime, and there was not a dry eye on the beach.
The week spent with this amazing group of people, cycling through some of the most picturesque, poppy-filled French countryside I have ever seen, brought this team of all ages together with one common mission: to say a collective thank you to all. As we cycled through the small towns and villages, hanging on almost every building were Canadian Flags, as well as American and British ones, showing the true respect and thanks the locals have for all that the allies did for them. Out of nowhere, as we cycled into many a small village, you would see people hanging out of their windows, cheering and clapping as we sped past them, leaving a trail of red white and “maple” … goosebumps every time!
The final moments of our visit to Juno Beach on this most momentous day was when the photographer grouped us all together on the beach, facing Canada House, one of the first French Houses to be liberated on that day, for a group photo. What happened next was amazing: the entire group, very unplanned, broke out in unison, singing O’ Canada while looking up and watching the many veterans that were looking down, tears in their eyes. There are no words to describe that feeling, other than you really had to be there, which I am so blessed to have been.
Cycling off the beach at the end of the ride was a very silent and solemn thing; of all the 130 riders buckling down to climb back up that hill, I don’t believe there was one word spoken as everyone reflected on what had just happened, and how lucky we all are to have seen a true piece of history, with actual living veterans in our midst.
I would highly recommend a trip through Normandy for everyone, as it really makes you proud to be a Canadian and see what those brave men and women did for us over 75 years ago.
I encourage everyone to check out: www.woundedwarriors.ca or www.bbr19.ca to see some of the amazing work this charity does for us all.