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Canadians mark 80th anniversary of D-Day as sun shines on Juno Beach in Normandy


The sun was shining on the beaches of Normandy on Thursday morning as a Canadian ceremony to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day got underway in Courseulles-sur-Mer, France.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his French counterpart Gabriel Attal and Prince William were among dignitaries visiting Juno Beach, where flags bearing the Maple Leaf fluttered in a gentle breeze.

In the front row of a crowd of thousands were 13 Canadian veterans in military uniform, the oldest of them 104 years old, who survived the war effort on the same beach so many decades ago.

“There are no words to describe the immensity of the debt we owe you,” Trudeau told them as he delivered an address noting the remarkably important role Canada was given in the Allied effort.

Behind him, the waters of the English Channel were calm, and a navy ship could be seen offshore. A sand dune was covered in wild roses and other flowers and grasses.

Against that tranquil backdrop, Trudeau delivered a warning.

“Our way of life didn’t happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort,” he said.

“Democracy is still under threat today. It is threatened by aggressors who want to redraw borders. It is threatened by demagoguery, misinformation, disinformation, foreign interference.”

He said the world owes it to the veterans who sacrificed so much for our collective freedom to continue standing up for democracy every day.

In his own address, the French prime minister warned that the world must not fall into submission.

Around 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches that fateful day 80 years ago to begin an effort now remembered as the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

In all, 4,414 Allied troops were killed on the first day of the invasion, including 381 Canadians.

June 6 marked just the beginning of the bloody 77-day Battle of Normandy and the start of the Allied liberation of France.

It was, Prince William said during a speech at the ceremony, the most ambitious campaign in military history.

“It came at a heavy cost,” he said.

In the end, the toll was enormous: 73,000 Allied forces were killed and 153,000 wounded. Around 20,000 French civilians were also killed, many as a result of Allied bombings of French villages and cities.

Historians estimate about 22,000 German soldiers are among those buried around Normandy, and between 4,000 and 9,000 of them were killed, wounded or went missing during the D-Day invasion alone.

The region’s cemeteries are also the final resting place for more than 5,000 Canadians, including 359 who were killed on D-Day.

After observing a moment of silence for the fallen, Trudeau, Attal and Prince William walked to the sand dune and laid down commemorative wreaths.

The event, which featured performances by a variety of Canadian artists, wrapped up with a performance by The Trews. As they sang “Highway of Heroes,” one of the Canadian veterans wiped away tears.

The two leaders and the prince took a few moments to chat with each of the Canadian veterans following the ceremony, crouching or bending over to get closer and clasping their hands.

Charles Davis, a veteran who lives in Windsor, Ont., asked to talk to William.

William asked him what his role was on D-Day and he didn’t quite hear, so his family member repeated the question for him.

“What did I do when I got on the beach? I got the hell off there,” said Davis. William and everyone around them laughed in a moment of levity on a solemn day, and Davis gave the prince a City of Windsor pin.

Veterans made their way towards the beach with their family members and companions, leaving the crowd to take a quiet moment near the shore.

In the afternoon, during a larger ceremony at Omaha Beach, French President Emmanuel Macron greeted dignitaries including Trudeau as planes flew overhead.

A crowd of thousands repeatedly rose to applaud veterans as large screens displayed live footage of them taking their seats.

Spectators gave a loud ovation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy upon his arrival. The Ukrainian leader gave Trudeau a hug and the two had a brief exchange.