D-Day one of the most significant moments of the Second World War

A very important and pivotal anniversary takes place this Friday. It is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of France that was likely the decisive moment of the Second World War in Europe.

Canada played a big part in the invasion, with Canadian troops among the British-led forces who stormed Juno Beach, one of the five landing places in Normandy. Among their ranks were soldiers from Langley.

I’ve recently been reading a biography of Winston Churchill, the great British wartime leader who is one of the 20th century’s most inspiring leaders. The section on his wartime leadership contains many references to the invasion of France, which was under discussion for more than two years before it actually occurred.

The Soviet Union continually put great pressure on its allies to land in France, as it was doing the heavy lifting on the eastern front. Estimates are that more than 20 million Soviet citizens, military and civilian, died in the war.

The challenge for the British and Americans is that they simply weren’t ready. It took a great deal of time to have sufficient troops and equipment ready, and as the aborted attempt on Dieppe (which involved many Canadian troops) in 1942 showed, it was not easy to invade a country by sea.

However, by the spring of 1944, the Allies were ready. They had assembled a huge coterie of troops in England, and had planned paratrooper attacks, air surveillance and bombing. They put together an armada to transport the troops across the English Channel and laid a large number of other plans.

Not everything worked out the way the war leaders had hoped, but on the whole, the invasion was a success. It took a month or so of hard fighting to truly establish a significant presence in France, but from then on, it was simply a matter of time for the Germans, who were stretched due to the troubles on their eastern front, but were still a formidable foe.

If D-Day had been a failure, the Germans would likely have fought on for much longer. Whether they would have been ultimately defeated anyway is hard to say, but the cost in lives lost, property damage and in wiping out the minority groups, such as Jews, that the Nazi government of Germany deemed inferior would have been even worse than it turned out to be.

D-Day was very significant in 1944, and it is today. Unfortunately, most of the troops who fought there and survived have passed away, with the youngest survivors being in their late 80s. Some of them will be in France to mark the occasion, and others will mark it here. But for those of us too young to remember that day, it is important not to forget, because our way of life is due to the sacrifice of many young men on that long-ago day.

The Langley branch of the Royal Canadian Legion will mark the occasion Friday at 7 p.m. with a ceremony at the cenotaph outside their branch, 20570 56 Avenue. All are invited to attend, and to visit the branch afterwards.

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