Above: Don Murphy seated up front speaking on some of his experiences. Below: Boots of Remembrance going to Halifax from Edmonton.
by Lucie Roy
The Veterans Affairs Canada Boots of Remembrance Departure Ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the battle of Normandy was held at the Jefferson Armoury in Edmonton on Wednesday.
Robert Loken, National Manager Commemoration, Veterans Affairs Canada was the Master of Ceremonies for the event. The piper was Sgt James Douglas of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. The performance was by the quintet of the Royal Canadian Artillery Band and the Colour Party and consisted of members of the Royal Canadian Legion Kingsway Branch 175.
Major (Retired) Claude Villeneuve was dressed in the officer uniform that would have been worn at D-Day and had on display the equipment, clothing and gear that a 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion soldier would have been carrying or wearing on D-Day.
WWII veterans, including Morinville WWII veteran Don Murphy, WWII veterans from the Kipnes Centre for Veterans, Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta, members of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Member of Parliament for Edmonton-MillWoods and the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities were some of the attendees.
Veterans Affairs Canada and its partners Via Rail and the Canadian Armed Forces are working together for a period of two months of commemorations honouring veterans and all those who fought for freedom during the D-Day landings and Battle of Normandy,” Loken said. “On June 6, D-Day, 75 years ago, Canadian Forces joined Americans and British Allies in crossing the English Channel in an all-out assault against the enemy. The Royal Canadian Navy shelled targets from the channel while the Royal Canadian Air Force bombed beaches and inland targets. A few hours later 15,000 Canadian troops landed on Juno Beach and began the ground assault to liberate France and Europe.”
Victory on the Normandy Campaign came at a terrible cost. More than 5000 Canadians died in the Battle of Normandy and 359 were killed on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day.
Many made the ultimate sacrifice; others returned home with injuries to body and mind that they carry to this day.
Loken went on to say that the journey of these brave Canadians did not begin on the shores of Britain but rather in cities and towns throughout Canada.
The young men and women left their home towns as recruits and took the train to Halifax, before then shipping out in convoys taking them to the battlefield of Europe.
Loken said he was honoured to take a few minutes to introduce the dozen or more WWII veterans in attendance that traded their shoes for military boots. They left their home towns and made the journey by train to Halifax before then shipping off to Europe. They were the lucky ones who came back to loving families.
Two veterans who were acknowledged, one was Albert Carlson of the Lake Superior Regiment a veteran of the Battle of Normandy and Don Murphy of the Royal Canadian Navy, assigned to combined operations with the Royal Marines, a veteran of D-Day and Battle of Normandy.
Murphy spoke briefly on some of his experiences.
“Everyone here has a story,” said Loken. “For some of us the story is very fresh, for others it is a story that goes back many years, but they are all stories that we need to remember and that is what this ceremony today and ceremonies that will be held across the country are all about. They are about remembering those who went off to Europe for our freedom.
“The Boots of Remembrance here today will embark on a journey to Halifax as many of you did so many years ago.
“On March 29, just a few weeks ago in Vancouver eight D-Day and Battle of Normandy veterans joined other veterans in attending the first of these send-off ceremonies.”
Over the next few weeks Canadians will join in the departure ceremonies in Jasper, Winnipeg, Toronto, Kingston, Quebec City and on until they get to Halifax.
Each of these ceremonies will have a pair of boots that will be going to Halifax.
Once in Halifax on June 6 all of these boots will be on display at the Halifax Citadel where the National Commemorative Ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day and Battle of Normandy will be held.
“All these boots are representations of your journey across the country, ” said Loken.
Following the ceremony, Canadian Armed Forces members escorted the symbolic combat boots to the Edmonton train station for the ceremonial send-off as the boots make their way to Halifax, just as families had done when they sent off their children.
All attendees had the opportunity to have keepsakes with the Boots of Remembrance pins and zipper pulls.
Lt. (Retired) Robert Copeland LDSH (RC) with Major (Retired) Claude Villeneuve. Villeneuve was dressed in the officer uniform of D-Day.
Major (Retired) Claude Villeneuve.
Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta, WWII veterans Eldred Stamp, Maureen Thomas, Myrtle Calahaisn, and John McDonald.