A Red Deer student had the opportunity to honour her great uncle in April by laying roses on his grave in Beny-Sur-Ner Canadian War Cemetery in France.
Capt. Harry Knight Eaton, of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, died on June 17, 1944, at the age of 21.
“I was the first person in my family to be there. No one in my family had been to Europe to see the headstone,” said Grade 12 student Camryn Baker who was one of 48 students from École Secondaire Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School that took part in the six-day French exchange visit.
She said her grandmother and mother were grateful that she was able to visit his grave and appreciated the photo Baker sent posing with his headstone.
Eaton was a captain with the No.5 Transport Platoon, 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, and landed just after D-Day (June 6, 1944) to be part of the push into France.
According to a report about his military service, Eaton lost nine men and three vehicles through no fault of his own upon landing, and immediately after. His platoon zealously kept up their anti-aircraft defences and were credited with shooting down a German plane in the Beny-sur-Mer area.
Eaton posthumously received the Member of the Order of the British Empire.
While the students visited the cemetery, Baker also paid tribute to her great uncle by reading aloud his service record at his graveside.
She said the visit made her feel connected to her heritage and Canada’s history.
“It was really surreal to see that many Canadians soldiers, and just walking around and seeing some of the ages on some of the headstones was really eye-opening.”
The students also visited former battlegrounds.
“The trenches are still there and they’re so deep. It makes you think a lot more about how glad you are to live in a place where there currently is peace, and how awful it would be to live in a place where there is no peace like Ukraine right now.”
Due to the pandemic, the group of exchange students were unable stay with French families in 2021, but were able to visit France for six days earlier this month.
Lindsay Thurber French teacher Aaron Monteleone said he was extremely proud of the students for putting so much work into learning French. Visiting the country gives them the chance to experience the language at its origin and French culture, as well as visit places they have studied in school.
Baker, who is not a French immersion student but has taken French classes since Grade 3, said it was an incredible place to visit.
“It’s a really nice opportunity to see if you can actually use (French) in a setting with people who actually speak it. Sometimes you find out you can. Sometimes you find out it’s a little bit more difficult.”