5276, J. R. Digger MacDougall, [class of ’61] and wife Nancy, joined the tens of thousands of veterans, service personnel – retired and serving – and visitors on the beaches of Normandy to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Digger and Nancy spent 5 days in Normandy to commemorate the D-Day landing and honour the fallen Canadians and other allies. It is unlikely that such a large ceremony will ever take place again as veterans who actually landed on D-Day will have passed away by the 80th.

The last time Digger was in the Juno Beach Area was in 1965 when he commanded the A Sqn Fort Garry Horse Guard of Honour during the dedication ceremonies overseen by the High Commissioner/Canadian Ambassador to France, The Right Honorable Jules Léger, later Governor General of Canada. At the time, the Fort Garry Horse was serving as part of the British Army on the Rhine, NATO, and used the opportunity to honour and memorialize those who died on D-Day. (See photos).

The 2014 visit was quite different. During the anniversary celebrations, most of Normandy was tightly wrapped in a security blanket that prevented well-intentioned visitors from participating in ceremonies on June 6. Even residents required a security pass to get within approximately 30 km of the D-Day landing areas. All, every single one, intersections had 3 to 10 military or civilian guards and police; even entrances and exits on cow paths were guarded. Lineups at security points were long and thousands of vehicles were turned back. Digger had received a security pass that enabled passage to the most highly secured areas like Juno and Omaha Beaches.

In 2014, the skies were filled with vintage aircraft and farm fields, roads and streets through built-up areas were filled with World War II vehicles of every imaginable description. Tented areas and encampments manned by men and women dressed in period dress and uniforms, along with vehicles and weapons of the day were to be seen in every village along the Normandy coast and in the towns and villages which were cleared through Normandy during the Allied advance.

Along with serving and retired Reserve and retired Regular Force members of the Fort Garry Horse, Digger and his wife joined up with and had the honour of participating in several ceremonies and services of remembrance at numerous sites throughout Normandy. Robert H Caldwell, who received a graduate degree from RMC, was among the 40 Garries who followed the route of the FGH from England through Normandy, which included overnight passage by ferry to Ouisterdam, arriving just after dawn. The participating Garries included the Honourary Colonel and Honourary Lieutenant Colonel, officers and noncommissioned personnel from the Winnipeg unit as well as 4 retired officers of the Regular Regiment that had served in Germany during the 1960s.

Digger and Nancy participated in six separate ceremonies of remembrance, including one at the large Canadian War Cemetery in Beny-Sur-Mer. This particular service was conducted by a Military Chaplain for the Wounded Warriors of Canada who were cycling through Normandy and the beach areas. Other services of remembrance included the laying of wreaths at roadside Markers which marked significant actions on the advance of the Garries on their way to Caen and Falaise.

The trip highlights for Digger included the return to the monument, which he helped dedicate 1965; the return to Doetinchem in Holland (liberated by the FGH in April 1945) where 49 years earlier he participated and the dedication ceremonies of Canada Park and the Garry Tank which had been restored by officers and members of C Sqn, FGH, which included RMC graduates Norm Hass and Gord Walt; and to be invited to read the names of over 400 of the Canadian and allies fallen on Juno Beach. What was going to be a simple return to Doetinchem to sign the city’s guestbook turned out to be an official visit on behalf of the Fort Garry Horse to make a presentation to the Mayor. Digger presented a photographic record of the restoration of Canada Park and the Garry Tank in August 1965 and a dedication parade in October of that year. This beautiful book had been prepared and published for Digger’s presentation by David Letson (Maj ret’d) of British Columbia, with whom Digger had served in Germany.

The MacDougalls visited the Juno Beach Centre to view the marker sponsored by the Ottawa Branch of the RMC Club of Canada; however, they missed the markers that were in a nearby field. The Ottawa Branch donated $500 to “help” sponsor the marker of an ex cadet who fell during the D-Day landings, which from a photo, appeared to be a small inscription secured to the top of a 3 foot 4” x 4” post.

It was an honour for Digger and his wife Nancy to participate in the many ceremonies that marked the landings of 1944 and it was an added honour to visit the Dutch city liberated by the Fort Garry Horse in 1945.

Slideshow photos –  “Digger Visit”  HERE Click > on each photo

Additional details and photos of the visit are available from Digger for the asking.