Today we arrive at Courseulles-sur-Mer and Juno Beach, and what I regard as the single best museum on all the beaches -- the Juno Beach Centre.
Arriving under a grey sky (if you don't like the weather in Normandy, wait an hour), a tank caught my eye. Now, there are lots of tanks on display up and down the beaches, but this one is different.
This was one of the few surviving amphibious tanks from the landing. The idea was to add in a propeller propulsion system, an inflatable skirt, and have the tanks sail in to the landing on their own. Once they hit sand, the propellers could be disengaged, and the skirts cast off as they moved forward. It was a great idea -- on paper. In practice, the sad truth is that many (if not most) sank on the way in.
Many of those that did make it ashore found guns like this waiting for them in what were called "Tobruks" armored turrets that could swing and fire 360. You've seen photos of the basic mounts for them in previous posts.
In fact, this gun (mounted close to where it stood on D-Day) was one of about ten guns in a linked position designed to protect the harbor.
The Juno Beach Centre catches your eye from a ways off, not merely for all the flags out front, but because the exterior is made of titanium scales and glass. When the sun is out, there is no way to miss it. Even when cloudy, it does tend to stand out a bit.
I've done a study of the statue in front, which will go up at Laughing Wolf one day soon. I'm trying to keep all the "art" photos there. The statue is enigmatic, and one of the better ones out there in my opinion, at least for the non-realistic ones.
Walking inside plunges you into warm woods and a very friendly staff. Given my experiences the day before with the Bunker museum, it was a true delight to be greeted with warmth to match the tones. In fact, I want to commend both Kelly and Emily for the wonderful experience. They made me welcome, arranged for me to talk with some senior staff, and provided service I had not experienced to date in any museum.
While waiting to enter the museum proper, I spent time in a temporary exhibit detailing bits of wartime life, at home and overseas. To get into the museum, you enter through a chamber that provides screens on all sides, where you hear recordings, see photos and movies, and go through some of what may have been going through the heads of the Canadians coming ashore at Juno.
Once the door opens at the end of the surround-experience, you enter to find out what Canada was like in the early 1930s and on up to wartime. The progression as you go is to move through the years up to and through wartime, and in the end up to modern Canada.
While every museum I visited used dioramas, this museum was designed to be interactive and make use of the latest in sound, video/movies, and images. In fact, the figure you see in the front right of the photo indicates to children that they can use sets given at the ticket counter to do interactive activities and learn more.
In fact, the use of multi-media was almost overwhelming at one point. One thing done by the Centre and those behind it was an effort to interview what seems to have been as many survivors of Juno as possible, and to present a variety of stories about life. Where video wasn't possible, audio was done. Where there was no audio, there were opportunities to hear letters being read by others, to share as much as possible.
One thing I truly loved to see was a continuous scroll of those lost to the war as one moved out into modern Canada. They took the time to set up an area that provided a quiet contemplation of the losses experienced.
I had signed up to be part of a guided tour, and Emily did a very good job. Sadly, I don't think much of the video I shot will be usable thanks to strong winds making a hash of the audio. Here, you see her explaining the anti-ship obstacles, and how they were also designed not to provide cover to infantry.
On the bunker we toured, Emily also showed us a nasty trick designed to protect the bunker. What looks like a standard ventilation hole up top in fact loops down to the opening below. When/if someone drops a grenade into the ventilation hole to try to kill those inside, it comes right back out at their feet, and the trench was designed to maximize the effect as much as possible.
The cut to the beach uses artwork to protect and remind. There are several nice touches, and I urge you to check them out.
For those interested, the museum was the idea of a veteran of Juno who came back to visit, and was not happy with the lack of a Canadian memorial and information on Canada's participation. So, he and others worked to create this non-profit non-governmental centre to fill that void.
So, what can I say. A museum that makes full use of multi-media and immersion; that makes things as interactive as possible, especially for children; that takes the time to lay the groundwork so that any visitor of any age can gain a better understanding of history and culture; and, that leaves room for the future. I would say that the void is filled, and there is more filling to come. WIth the help of volunteers, a section of tunnel is being cleared so that those on guided tours can add that to the experience.
It was a large regret of mine that I could not be there on D-Day for the 10-year commemoration of the Centre. Trust me, it would have been a much better and more professional experience that where I was stuck at the time. Here, the Canadians have done it right, and this is one of the true don't-miss stops in visiting the D-Day beaches.
This trip and other embeds sponsored by MilitaryLuggage.Com and B.N. Shape Clothing. Normandy coverage also made possible by Enterprise Rent A Car Caen Railway Office. My thanks to them and to everyone who has contributed to make this and other trips possible. Be sure to check out my Facebook Page and Laughing Wolf for other photos, stories, and more.
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