As Canadians, my wife and I were quite disturbed to learn that an offshore wind farm is being proposed for construction near the French town of Courseulles-sur-mer, where the Canadians landed at Juno Beach on D-Day.
My personal memories of D-Day were formed as a 12-year-old boy, living near the south coast of England in 1944. I recall watching in awe as the relentless columns of khaki-coloured vehicles negotiated their way through our narrow streets on their way to the embarkation ports on the coast. An assortment of trucks, tanks and strange amphibious-looking vehicles churned up the roads as they passed by our house.
We had two Canadian soldiers billeted with us for about a year prior to D-Day. All of a sudden, they mysteriously left. We later learned that one survived the campaign, and returned to Toronto and his family after the war. The other lost his life four days after D-Day.
Before the invasion took place, everyone knew that something big was about to happen – although the time and place were one of the most closely guarded secrets of World War II.
My wife and I first visited the D-Day landing beaches over 20 years ago, and we have returned on two other occasions. During our first visit, two days after the June 6 anniversary, our ferryboat to Ouistreham was packed with white-haired veterans, many accompanied by their children and grandchildren. It was moving to listen to their conversation and the recounting of their traumatic experiences. Some had gone over on D-Day itself – June 6, 1944 – others, on the days following.
As we approached the French coast, there was a noticeable silence from those ageing veterans lining the ship’s rail. You could see from their craggy faces, as they stared out toward the shore, that they were individually re-living personal memories of those critical few days in June, 1944.
During those trips, we also took the opportunity to visit the Canadian, British, U.S. and Commonwealth graves. We were impressed by the way these sites have been maintained and preserved by the French authorities.
So why, I now ask, not extend a similar stewardship to the landing beaches?
On a recent visit to England, we came across a wind farm on a stretch of land that once had been peaceful pastoral countryside. This proliferation of machinery is happening all over the UK and France. Since wind is perceived as “clean power,” many of these wind farms are receiving approval even in areas renowned for their natural beauty – often resulting in considerable visual damage to the fragile fabric of seashore and countryside (as well as degrading the bird population).
As a retired architect, I believe we have a responsibility to carefully consider the impact of our designs on the environment. The protection of the seashore and the countryside is just as crucial to our societies as the laudable goal of clean power. A sensitive balance must be achieved between these competing goals.
Our collective memory of historical events are an interwoven part of our lives – and should be protected. The sea and the approach to the D-Day beaches should form part of a larger memorial that helps us remember and retell the story of that long day and the battles that followed.
For those few remaining veterans and their memories, the proposed forest of churning blades would ruin the solemnity and solitude of the approach to those historic beaches, and be most disrespectful to the memory of those young soldiers who landed there nearly 70 years ago.
We must protect Juno Beach, and all the other landing beaches, both on-shore and offshore. Courseilles-sur mer itself should be considered for the status of world heritage site, so that the preservation and integrity of the landing beaches is guaranteed for future generations.