Seventy years ago Ernest Cote and tens of thousands of fellow Canadians landed on Juno Beach.
This time, the veteran and his war comrades have received a far warmer welcome on their return to France for this year’s D-Day commemorations.
An infantryman, Ernest returned to Canada after the war staying in the military and becoming a colonel.
Soon to be a 101, the centenarian remembers vividly the day the western allies moved to wrest back Europe from Nazi control.
‘‘The landing for the Canadian troops began around eight o’clock. It went well, but of course there were dead to the left and the right,’‘ he told euronews.
Despite the carnage, Ernest recalls the calmness of his British comrades in arms who stopped at 11.00 for tea.
‘‘They were (the British soldiers) against the ramp. A group of them were drinking a cup of coffee, or I should say tea. I had to tell the captain, ‘Listen, when you’ve finished your tea, we need to move the dead as quickly as possible as it’s no good for the morale of the troops coming in,’‘ said Ernest.
A rapid allied advance was seen as crucial to gain a strong foothold on French soil. But not everything went to plan.
‘‘The goal was for the infantry to get eight kilometres inland on foot, like we say in Latin, ‘Pedibus cum jambis’‘, but they didn’t get that far. So for the fourth wave of soldiers we supplied them with at least 100 fold up bicycles so they could reach their objective.’‘
The Normandy Ernest now returns to is hardly recognisable compared to the one he first saw all those years ago.
‘‘The Canadians were the first to take German prisoners. They were cosseted by the people of Normandy with Calvados and everything else. The French were delighted, even though they had lost women and children and homes. The people of Normandy really suffered and when we see the prosperity today it’s hard to believe. This prosperity came from being released from the Nazi yoke.’‘
Ernest says the ceremonies he has come to attend are largely for his fallen comrades, and the ultimate price they paid for the world we live in today.
‘‘The memory, unfortunately for me, is for those that lost their lives here, but what do you want, freedom has a price and when you see these headstones perfectly aligned, this is the sacrifice individuals made for freedom.’‘
From Normandy, euronews’ Laurence Alexandrowicz reports: ‘‘The war memorial in Beny Reviers in the peaceful Normandy countryside is extremely moving. More than 2,000 men have been laid to rest here, with the youngest Canadian who was buried here being little more than 16 years old.’‘