Ray Coulson and his granddaughter, Jenna Gogan, were among a group of Canadians to participate in D-Day ceremonies in France last month.
AMHERST – Ray Coulson still gets emotional when he thinks about what many of the men he considers close friend went through 70 years ago in northern France.
The curator of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders Regimental Museum, Coulson was part of a Return to Normandy 2014 tour in early June that was led by filmmaker Alan Cameron.
“It was pretty emotional,” Coulson said Monday looking back at some of the photos taken during the weeklong trip and a shotglass filled with sand from Juno Beach and clay from Authie, where 13 members of the North Novies were murdered by German troops the day after the June 6, 1944 landings. “To stand there on that beach 70 years later and think about what was taking place was just so emotional and to go inland to where they served and to see what they had to go through to do what they did was simply amazing.”
Along with participating in ceremonies at Juno Beach, the group, that included Coulson’s granddaughter Jenna Gogan, followed in the footsteps of the famed Nova Scotia regiment in the opening days of the Normandy campaign.
As curator and a former regimental sergeant major with the Nova Scotia (North) Highlanders, Coulson befriended many of the North Novies D-Day veterans and worked with them through the regimental museum and its memory club.
He’d heard the stories of fighting through the bocage and hedgerows of the Normandy region and the horrors of what happened at the Abbaye d’Ardennes when the North Novies got cut off and hammered by German troops led by the notorious Kurt Meyer.
“I remembered Earl Gouchie telling me a story about him leaning against a hedgerow and feeling a vibration as if something was coming. That something was a German tank but he couldn’t see it and it couldn’t see him. After seeing the hedgerows myself I could understand how that could happen,” Coulson said. “They fought through almost impossible conditions to do what they did.”
Gogan said she vaguely knew about the Second World War, but never really gave it much thought until she saw Juno Beach and visited the cemeteries that Canadian soldiers are buried in.
“It really struck me that people my age and those younger need to learn more about this,” she said. “There are a lot of people who have never been the armoury and have never learned a thing about the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. We have an obligation to carry the memory of what happened over there forward,” she said. “When I went there I went to be with my grandfather, but I ended up learning so much about D-Day and honestly it was hard not to get emotional when you went to the cemeteries and saw the graves of people who were my age when they were killed. That’s when it hit me, the significance of what they did.”
Cameron, a native of Cape Breton, organized the tour to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day and to pay tribute to those veterans who served and died in northern France.
While he was not successful in raising all the money he wanted to cover the cost of the trip, he said it was worth it.
“It was an amazing experience with an amazing group of people,” said Cameron, who caught the tour on video and on film. “It’s important that we tell the world what happened there and what the North Novies did to make it happen as well as all the soldiers who fought and died on the beaches and in the battle for Normandy.”
Cameron said he also did it as a tribute to his great uncle Ernest Glenmore Hill, who was killed near Tilly La Campagne, France on July 25, 1944, and to uncle Perley Cameron, who survived the war.
Besides toasting those soldiers who never came back and those who have lost the battle of time since then, the group laid Canadian flags, poppies and North Nova Scotia Highlander pins at the graves of North Novies.
“It was like being on hallowed ground,” Cameron said. “It was a once in a lifetime experience for all of us and something none of us will ever forget. I would like to think those North Novies who didn’t come home and those who’ve passed on since then would be proud of what we did.”