Posts Tagged ‘Juno Beach Centre’

My mother was ten when war broke out in 1939. She and her family lived in the countryside just south of London, at Addington Palace Hotel, where her father was  manager. He had worked in the catering industry since leaving the army in 1918 at the age of twenty, having served in the First World War for four years. Mum remembers clearly the family gathering around the wireless in their sitting room to hear the grave news that war had been declared.

At first, life at the hotel went on as usual and then the departure of many local school children to more rural locations began. My grandfather would not consent to my mother and her sister leaving; the hotel seemed safe enough, he wanted to keep the family together and there was very little news from Europe until the evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940. Some of the rooms at the hotel were commandeered by the British army for officers; troops were stationed in tents along the driveway leading up to the Palace. The toll house was used as a guard-room.

In July 1940, the family were able to witness at close range the planes fighting in the Battle of Britain. For over three months the skies above the hotel buzzed with the sound of aircraft. Addington is within a few miles of Biggin Hill, one of the many small airports used.

By 1942, the army had moved on but the village was thrown into great excitement – the Canadians were coming! Troops were billeted in houses all around the village, and again, rooms at the hotel were used for senior officers. The Mews, a separate part of the hotel, was also taken over for accommodation with a canteen and there was to be a parade ground. Everyone at Addington Palace now really felt part of the war.

The Canadian soldiers were only too ready to make friends in the village, organising games for the children – football and races on the village green.

My mother is far left, sitting on the windowsill

My mother is far left, sitting on the windowsill

Christmas 1942 was the most memorable of the war. The soldiers arranged with my grandfather a children’s party at the hotel. All the village children were invited, entertainment was provided. The soldiers dressed up in fancy costumes; there was a ventriloquist act and a film show. With food now being rationed, as good a tea as possible was provided.

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The party was talked about for a long time afterwards – my mother remembers it vividly and still has the autograph book containing the signatures and messages of some of her favourite soldiers. She has particular reason to have such fond memories of the Canadians. In 1943, her father died suddenly. The sympathy and kindness shown to her and her mother at this time by the soldiers was overwhelming, in particular by the Canadian chaplain, Norman Sharky, and Colonel Bell-Irving.

Later the same year, the Canadians moved on – one day they were there, the next they had gone and my mother never saw them again. It remains her greatest regret.

Post script.

My Sofa Loafing historian has since discovered that his Grandma’s Canadians were from the 2nd heavy ack-ack regiment and left Addington to protect the British coast at Dover. Col Bell-Irving was awarded the OBE when his regiment shot down enemy aircraft during their first engagement.

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The Juno Beach Centre, in Courseulles-sur-mer, (east of Arromanches on the way to the port of Caen at Ouisterham), is a very informative museum dedicated to Canada’s contribution in World War Two. The centre houses several rooms, each devoted to a different area of the war. We spent a morning there a couple of years ago with a french-speaking Canadian history student who guided us outside onto the beach to explain the Canadian assault on Juno. She lined us up in regiments and explained how fourteen thousand Canadian troops landed on 6th June facing heavy machine gun fire as well as mined obstacles.

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In front of the Centre is this beautiful memorial to the fallen.

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