Juno Beach forever etched in Calgarian’s memory
As some his fellow veterans gather for the 70th anniversary of one of the most important events of the twentieth century, Capt. Bill Wilson of Calgary will forever remember his role in the Allied Forces storming of the beaches of Normandy.
On June 6, 1944, D-Day, 15,000 Canadian soldiers and airmen fought their way towards dry land, while nearly 10,000 sailors on Royal Canadian Navy ships battled German air attacks and U Boats. A 19-year-old Wilson was a gunner on HMCS Ottawa who, in his words, was too young to be scared.
“You are not easy to impress at that young age,” explains Wilson. “If you were 30 or 40…” Wilson pauses at the thought of an older man risking his life.
“All we concentrated on was doing the job. We were trained to do a job, it was drilled into us, we worked at it. We exercised and exercised and exercised and, now here we go.”
The young gunner, who volunteered to fight for Canada, knew his chances of surviving the war were not great.
“We were told to expect up to 65 per cent casualties in the navy.”
Capt. Wilson is approaching his 90th birthday but he still has vivid memories of the morning of June 6, 1944.
“The ocean was just full of ships,” recollects Wilson. “There were over 6,000 ships involved in navigation that day and over 150,000 men.”
“It was quite a sight.”
Military historian Rob Hubert, a University of Calgary political scientist, says the efforts of Wilson and his fellow servicemen who fought to claim the beaches of Normandy are responsible for the prosperity and freedoms Canadians enjoy today.
Hubert maintains the events of June 6, 1944 changed the course of history.
“To have a successful counter invasion, back on to the mainland of Europe was absolutely essential to the security of our nation, of North America and, I dare say, the entire free world.”
Captain Wilson remains a driving force behind Calgary’s Naval Museum where the sacrifices of the men and women of Canada’s navy are honoured.
With files from CTV’s Kevin Green