We are in Normandy, France, to search for the grave of Albert Chenier, a Canadian soldier who gave his life in support of freedom. We know he died here, but little else.
We visit the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-Sur-Mer (a museum commemorating the Canadian liberation forces efforts, and a memorial to their lives.) We explain to the Guide that we have been searching the names on the memorial in the grounds for Albert Chenier who was injured upon landing and died several weeks later. He informs us that the names on the monuments are sponsored, and they do not represent all the Canadians who died there. He offers to search the website and returns within a few minutes with Albert’s regimental number and the cemetery in which he is interred, only a few minutes from this location: Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Calvados, France.
The cemetery was created as a permanent resting place for Canadian soldiers who had been temporarily interred in smaller plots close to where they fell during World War II. It contains the remains of 9 sets of brothers, a record for a Second World War cemetery. There is also a special memorial erected to a soldier of the Canadian Infantry Corps who is known to have been buried in this cemetery, but the exact site of whose grave has not been located.
We leave behind Juno Beach, the giant crucifix that towers over the area offering both redemption and caution ‘lest we forget’; the remnants of the Atlantic Wall, the German bunkers and tunnels, and the many monuments to Canadian war heroes: one of which denotes the D-Day Officer’s order of the day:
‘When the ramp goes down get out fast. Go like a bat out of hell, get in close and take cover…
Don’t stop to help the wounded even if he is your buddy, the medics will take care of them…’
We follow directions to a large cemetery located in the middle of the open countryside where fine hedges decorate the entrance. The flanking registry buildings have platforms from which visitors can see the whole area, and they also house a tabernacle containing a guest book and a list of all the buried soldiers. Although 2048 headstones stretch out in pristine rows enclosed by pines and maples marking the dead of the 3rd Division and the graves of 15 airmen, it is a simple feat to find Albert’s grave thanks to the schematic of the cemetery.
As is typical of war cemeteries in France, the French Government granted Canada a perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery. Local school children tend the graves and each is marked by flowers. It is a humbling experience to be present in this hallowed place and to read the inscriptions on the graves of so many young men.
Grave Reference: IV. F. 5.
In Memory of Private Albert Charles Chenier
H/16803, South Saskatchewan Regiment, R.C.I.C.
He died of wounds in France on 15 August 1944 and is remembered with honour.
A few verses recorded from the stones of the fallen:
Ever loving remembrance of our dearest and our best
Who gave his all so bravely
Peace, perfect peace – June 9, 1944.
He died for our freedom
May we be worthy of his supreme sacrifice.
Rest my son in thy far off grave
You died for your country like a hero brave.