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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 June, 2004, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Lest we forget: Canadians fought, too
by Jennifer Quinn
BBC News Online (on attachment from the Toronto Star)

Second Canadian Flotilla lands at Juno beach
Poor weather prevented the invasion on 5 June
There were three armies on Normandy's beaches that day: Alongside the huge numbers of American and British troops were 14,000 Canadians. They landed at Juno Beach, took on the enemy - and have been fighting for recognition ever since.

They were a relatively small contingent and they played a very big role.

Nearly one in 10 of the soldiers who stormed Normandy's beaches during Operation Overlord was a Canadian. Their target was Juno beach, an eight-kilometre stretch of sand near the towns of Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernieres, and St Aubin.

The Canadians were flanked by their allies. The Americans were heading for Omaha and Utah beaches; The British, with whom Canadians had trained over the months leading up to the invasion, were focused on Sword and Gold beaches.

Garth Webb was focused on doing his job - and by extension, staying alive.

Coming of age

He's now 84 years old, living in a comfortable suburb outside Toronto and the president of the Juno Beach Centre. But on 6 June, 1944, Mr Webb was Lieutenant Webb, 25 years old and in charge of a team of gunners with the 14th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery.

"I was in charge of a group of guns, artillery guns, and we landed 90 minutes after the first guys," Mr Webb said.

Garth Webb
We were trained, and we were ready and we didn't hang around. I was too busy to sit around worrying
Garth Webb
President, Juno Beach Centre

"We occupied a gun position that was outside the village of Bernieres. The plan was that this gun position was nice and safe and we'd be shooting from there. We had three guys who had their guns blown up, and that was my first experience of occupying a gun position in a war."

By the end of the invasion, 340 Canadian soldiers were dead. A further 574 had been wounded; nearly 50 were taken prisoner. By the end of the campaign, over 5,000 Canadians had been killed, and more than 42,000 would die in the war altogether.

When Canada declared war on Germany in September 1939, it was seen as a coming-of-age for the young nation. When the war began, the country was deeply divided over the issue of conscription.

But by the time D-Day came around, more than a million people - in a country then under 12 million - had joined the Canadian forces.

Like the Americans, Mr Webb and the Canadian troops spent time in England preparing for the invasion, so by 6 June, he wasn't frightened.

"It's hard to explain," he said. "We were trained, and we were ready and we didn't hang around.

"I was too busy to sit around worrying. It was quite an indoctrination to see all the guys get killed right away, but that didn't mean my job was done."

Since the war, some Canadians have felt their role in the invasion has been minimized.

Forgotten soldiers?

"We weren't recognized," veteran Ivor Watkins told the Washington Post. "If you ever see the newsreels, it's always the British and the Americans, the British and the Americans. Canadians were left aside."

Mr Webb disagrees, saying the British soldiers he worked and trained with valued the Canadian contribution, and made them feel welcome.

"We were the opposite in our attitude. We felt that they helped us," Mr Webb said. "We had spent some time in England and we were pals with the British, and we were all together. Jokingly, I say they helped us, but we didn't feel any less part of it than the others."

Since the war, Mr Webb has become a hero of another sort.

Along with his partner Lise Cooper, Mr Webb spearheaded the initiative to build the Juno Beach Centre, a 4 million facility in Courseulles-sur-Mer that both commemorates the efforts of Canadian soldiers and teaches visitors about their role in World War II.

"The location puts a lot of emphasis on D-Day, but really the story we tell is the whole story of Canada in World War II - how it became a nation, the Italian campaign, and Dieppe," Mr Webb says.

He has received the Meritorious Service Cross from the Governor-General - the Queen's representative in Canada - and was in May made a Knight of the Legion of Honour, which is France's top military award for bravery.

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