For June Stewart Burgoyne, the D-Day ceremony on Saturday at the Centennial Calgary Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion brought back memories of secrecy and sacrifice.
In 1944, she was 18 years old and a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service — and part of one of the most important days in the Second World War.
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She was stationed in combined operations in Britain and knew something was being planned off the coast but had no idea of how big it would be.
“Our lips were sealed. You never knew who was listening. That was a big thing that we were taught. I was young and I was naïve and we were all wondering but we wouldn’t dare speak a word of what we thought we knew,” Stewart Burgoyne said.
She said she watched soldiers go through training on ships and was prepared for what horrors might lie ahead.
“They even put me through a gas chamber — not only me but a whole bunch of us. They opened the door and said, ‘In you go.’ And you had to go in by yourself all the way through the gas chamber and then out.” Stewart Burgoyne said.
On the morning of June 6, 1944, she woke up as usual at 5 a.m. but the soldiers were already gone. She could hear the battle echoing from Normandy.
“I can hardly believe that I was there, just looking out over the ocean nothing but those landing craft as far as the eye could see,” Stewart Burgoyne recalled.
After the war, she married a Canadian soldier and left her home in Britain to start a new life in Canada.
The 93-year-old Calgary woman said she feels proud to have played a small part in such an enormous effort. She is thankful for those taking time to remember the sacrifices made 75 years ago.
“This has been a great honour for the boys that left us on D-Day, to have everybody remember them because they were like me, 18 or 19 most of them,” Stewart Burgoyne said.
Other veterans attending the Calgary ceremony said it is always difficult to think about the horrific events they witnessed but events like this are essential.
“We do not want children to forget. They have to remember our boys and girls who fought for this country. It would be a shame for them to forget all about it,” said Dusty Rhodes, director of the branch’s D-Day ceremonies.