Course lands Juno Beach connections back home

Paul Mayne//Western NewsKing’s University College History professor Graham Broad, together with fellow professor Katrina Pasierbek, has developed a new upper-year course, The World Wars in History, Memory, and Reconciliation, which includes an overseas trip in France and Belgium.

Graham Broad anticipates the looks on his students’ faces as they share the same soil as thousands of Canadian soldiers who stormed Juno Beach on June 6, 1944, during the Second World War.

“It’s like seeing the Mona Lisa in a book and then standing in front of it,” the King’s University College professor explained. “There’s a power of place.”

Broad will deliver that power through The World Wars in History, Memory, and Reconciliation, a new experiential upper-year history course at King’s that includes an overseas trip to France and Belgium, following a term of classroom studies. Broad developed the course with fellow professor Katrina Pasierbek.

Broad has published two recent books, One in a Thousand: the Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps and A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-1945, which align with his teaching goals of helping students see the local connections to the world wars.

A public historian, Pasierbek has extensive experience as a battlefield guide and member of international research teams who study the caves beneath the Western Front.

“It’s not a tour. We’re not tour guides over there. We’re engaging with the landscape. We’re critically interrogating the sites we are visiting,” Broad said. “We have some unique access to sites. The students will be getting an experience they wouldn’t have if they were on an ordinary bus tour.”

The partnership was forged after the course was awarded the 2019-20 Juno Beach Centre Fellowship.

“The experience will connect these bright Canadian youth with a sacred piece of Canada in France that commemorates the efforts of men and women – many the same age as these students – who put their lives on hold to fight for a better world,” said Don Cooper, President of the Juno Beach Centre Association.

Established in 2003, the Juno Beach Centre is a permanent memorial and education centre dedicated to all Canadians who were part of the Allied victory in the Second World War.

The 1944 Battle of Normandy – lasting from the D-Day landings on June 6 until the encirclement of the German Army at Falaise on Aug. 21 – was one of the pivotal events of the Second World War.

Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen played a critical role in the invasion – known as Operation Overlord – that opened the campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation. Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed on D-Day, including 14,000 Canadians at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors; the RCAF contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons.

More than 10,000 Allied soldiers were injured on D-Day alone, including 1,074 Canadians, of whom 359 were killed. By the end of the Battle of Normandy, the Allies had suffered 209,000 casualties, including more than 18,700 Canadians. Nearly 45,000 Canadians died during the War, including some 5,500 soldiers during the Battle of Normandy alone.

To be able to take students to the battlefield where all that happened helps them better understand the context of the moment, especially how the landscape figures into that memory.

“When we go to Courseulles-sur-Mer, along the Normandy coast where the Canadians landed on Juno Beach, we are going to be seeing Canadians flags everywhere,” Pasierbek said. “We’re going to be meeting people whose very common reaction to meeting local Canadians is to thank them. That is an experience we cannot replicate in a classroom. We cannot even begin to describe what that experience is like.”

The Juno Beach Fellowship will assist students financially, as well as give them access to the centre’s staff and their resources in Normandy in advance if a student-led exhibition at King’s, scheduled for November 2020. That exhibition will focus on the relationship between London, Ont., and the Juno Beach battlegrounds, including representations of the people of the region, and items from the town and the battle of Normandy in summer of 1944.

“We are going to try and bring that direct connection home,” Broad said. “That kind of immediacy is very powerful for them.”