TORONTO – A French plan to install towering wind turbines within sight of a beach where thousands of Canadians fought a bloody battle launching the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe is raising the ire of some veterans.
“I think it’s a disgusting affair,” said Jack Martin, who was among the Canadians who stormed Juno Beach during the D-Day landings of 1944.
“I saw so many of my buddies and friends die on Juno Beach that I figure it is very hallowed grounds.”
Martin was a company quartermaster-sergeant with the Queen’s Own Rifles during the assault and later ran tours to the beach where 359 Canadians were killed.
The French government announced last week that it was receiving tenders for over 1,000 wind turbines off the country’s northwestern coast, including at Courseulles-sur-mer, where Juno Beach is located. The entire project is eventually predicted to power more than 4.5 million homes.
The numbers don’t sway 87-year-old Martin. He said the turbines might take away from the sombre historical significance of the site.
“We were the only regiment without tank support and yet we penetrated further inland than any other unit in the whole D-Day assault,” he said. “It’s very important that people know what the Canadians had to go through to make it a historical site.”
Retired major Roy E. Eddy agrees, saying it’s important for Canadians to keep the memory of Juno Beach alive.
“I’d like to forget about it, but I don’t want to,” said the veteran, who was 20 when he lost many friends on the beach. “None of us slept for about 72 hours, the noise and the sound was just earth shattering.”
The 86-year-old said he’s not against wind farms, but doesn’t want to see them constructed opposite an area where so many Canadians died.
Veterans Affairs Canada says it “understands and shares” the concerns of those who fought for freedom.
“We wouldn’t see it appropriate to develop on the actual site where the battle of Juno occurred,” said a spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney.
But while voices in Canada have lashed out against the French plan, the Juno Beach Centre at the famous site itself has decided to accept the French government’s proposal.
“We see absolutely no impact other than the visual one, and we’re prepared to live with it,” said director Don Cooper.
The centre was approached by French locals looking to oppose the project but after consultation with its board, which includes veterans, decided not to stand in way of the plan which will see turbines developed some 10 kilometres offshore.
“In a perfect world one might say we’d prefer not to have it, but I think it’s something that goes with what happens in the environment today,” said Cooper. “To me it’s no different than a freighter going by in the channel.”
Yet that visual change to the landscape is exactly what historian Rudyard Griffith points to when explaining why some might have a strong reaction against the turbine plan.
“We are changing forever the visual landscape of a globally significant Canadian site,” said the co-founder of the former Dominion Institute.
“To be able to walk those beaches, and see them and imagine them as if it was 1944 is, in some ways, essential to keeping that historical memory alive, and in turn that memory shapes and forms our identity today.”
Griffith points out that the historical site is not just the beach, but also the waters beyond which brought Allied troops to the shore of Nazi-occupied France. Having turbines constructed so close to where so many fought would be a jarring image at a site preserved to remind visitors of the sacrifices made.
“The coast of Normandy is vast, you’d think they could have the ability to station the windmills at other places along the coast that provide their needs for clean energy but don’t mar the visual landscape of Juno beach.”
The European Platform Against Windfarms is among those disapproving of the project.
“It’s not offshore, it’s along the coast, it’s only 10 kilometres from the D-Day beach,” chairman Jean-Louis Butre, said in an interview from Paris. “People are really upset about what’s going on, so upset that we received comments from everywhere.”
The organization – a collective of 483 groups – has recorded more that 2,300 signatures for an online petition decrying the project, which includes comments from Canadians.
Butre said in addition to being plainly visible during the day, the flashing lights of the turbines would create a “discotheque” effect around the D-Day beaches at night. Among the complaints he’s received he even mentions a call from a retired Royal Air Force pilot.
“They say ‘we are going to bomb those wind turbines,”‘ he said with a chuckle.
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