When Raymond Vandevyvere of Glen Meyer visited the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, near the devote and caring villagers of Reviers in Normandy, he was struck by the beauty of the area.
“When you walk those grounds, you are absolutely proud to be a Canadian,” said Vandevyvere, a former Belgian Congo veteran, who had visited France in July.
“I visited all the cemeteries – the American, the English, the German – and the Canadian cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer was by far the most beautiful, the most colourful, the most well-kept cemetery. There is absolutely no comparison. Absolutely. I have pictures of the American cemetery and it's neat too, but there's not one flower. Not one.”
The Beny-sur-Mer cemetery contains 2,049 Second World War burials, the majority Canadian. Nineteen of them are unidentified.
“Beny-sur-Mer, I would say it's about 10 kilometres inland from Juno Beach, which was where the Canadians landed. You walk into that cemetery and you are absolutely overwhelmed.”
Among the other Normandy sites he visited was Pointe du Hoc, near Omaha Beach, the site of a memorial recognizing the D-Day efforts of the American Second Ranger Battalion, who had to scale 100-plus foot cliffs.
“Half of them didn't make it,” noted Vandevyvere.
“This whole area,” he said, pointing to one of his photographs, “about 100-200 acres, it's still full of bunkers. Some destroyed, some intact. Gun emplacements, huge, huge bunkers with walls five-six feet thick. It's still that way today.
“The whole area was full of obstacles, wires and things. They had so many obstacles. There was a bombardment before they climbed the beaches and they claimed the Germans would be mostly destroyed by the time the infantry landed. But they weren't because they were so heavily embedded in bunkers. They had four years to build those bunkers – and they're still there today. And gun emplacements, you have no idea. You have to go visit them.”
Vandevyvere also came home with photos from Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where American paratroopers landed in the very early morning hours of June 6, 1944.
“He's still hanging there, parachute and all,” Vandevyvere smiled, noting a photograph of the church tower where a 'paratrooper' was hanging, pretending to be dead several hours before the Germans took him down as a prisoner.
“Anyone who is visiting the area – it's not that far from Paris or Brussels – should visit the cemeteries. You just come away feeling overwhelmed. I was most impressed. It should be visited by all – everybody should visit.”