As Remembrance Day 2013 approaches, I'd like to use a good part of this blog to introduce you to a friend of mine, The Little Coat: The Bob and Sue Elliott Story book. My friend tells the amazing true war story/love story about a Canadian soldier, a little Dutch girl, and the coat that has linked them together forever.
In case you haven't guessed by now, my publishers are pretty sneaky at times... and unknown to me, they brought three copies (I'll tell you about all three later) of my friend The Little Coat along on our journey to Europe this summer. I didn't know about this sneaky move... and I didn't see my friend until we arrived here...
...at the Juno Beach Centre, in Courselles-sur-Mer of the Normandy region of France.
My publishers all of a sudden pulled my friend The Little Coat out of their backpacks. And I was so pleased. It was the perfect place for him. The Centre houses the Juno Beach museum, which contains artifacts and films and tells some of the incredible stories and details of the Second World War. I was honoured to go into this building and onto the actual Juno Beach with my friend The Little Coat.
Before I move on in this blog, please allow me to tell you more about The Little Coat: The Bob and Sue Elliott Story. This award-winning, bestselling book is written by Saskatchewan author Alan J. Buick. It tells the true story of Alberta soldier Bob Elliott, who was 15 years old when he enlisted in the Second World War. Almost four years later, on June 6, 1944, Bob landed on Juno Beach as a member of the 19th Field Regiment. That day would later become known as D-Day.
Bob survived that horrid battle and advanced further into France and then into the Netherlands. At age 19, in November 1944, he was a tank commander fighting the German troops in the Netherlands when he met 10-year-old Sussie Cretier. Sussie's family had just escaped to the safety of the Allied forces, and this feisty little girl soon became a good-luck charm and adopted little sister to many of the men in Bob's troop. The soldiers wanted to give Sussie a Christmas gift, so they took a Canadian Army blanket and gave it to a seamstress in that Dutch village, asking her to make it into a coat for Sussie. The buttons for the coat came off the Canadian soldiers' tunics. On Christmas Day, 1944, Bob gave Sussie the coat on behalf of his crew, and teh Canadians soon left Holland to continue with the advance against the German forces. More than 35 years later, Bob and Sussie (Sue) reconnected and fell in love. She still had the little coat. She brought it with her to Canada and married her hero.
As my publishers and I and our friend, The Little Coat book, looked around the grounds of Juno Beach, we could only think of Bob Elliott and the thousands of others who fought and sacrificed so much for our freedom.
We were overwhelmed by their strength, their courage, and their sacrifices.
Walking down the path toward the beach, we wondered how many men had died in this spot.
How many lost their lives here in the service of their country?
My publishers set The Little Coat on the sand at Juno Beach, in an homage to those who fought... and to honour the late Bob Elliott, our hero, who passed away earlier this year - on February 15, 2013.
We miss you, Bob. Thank you for your service.
From Juno Beach, we drove further up the coast to the French port of Dieppe. We wanted to see this significant spot at which 907 Canadians lost their lives in a failed raid in August 1942, which later informed more successful attacks for the Allied forces.
These Canadians are not forgotten, though. The beautiful Dieppe Square honours the Canadians who died in that raid.
Each year since the end of the war, on August 19, ceremonies are held in Dieppe to commemorate that battle and the loss of life. Unaware of this annual event, we arrived in Dieppe and saw the displays set up in preparation for these ceremonies. Fascinating.
From Dieppe, we drove inland, towards Vimy, France, where we were anxious to see the great Vimy Ridge Memorial site.
There were many, many cemeteries in this region, all well-kept and providing an everlasting tribute to those who fell in the First World War. We were particularly moved by this often-seen grave marker:
'Soldier of the Great War. Known to God.'
Arriving at Vimy, France, we walked through the museum and along the paths on the grounds, which still show the crevices caused by bombs and mines from the First World War.
Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917 was not one of Canada's most successful military achievements, but was significant for bringing Canadian forces together as a unified fighting force for the first time..
Vimy Memorial site includes a piece of the trench from the war and memorials to those who served.
Signs warn visitors to not step over the electric fence because parts of the land, which has been donated to Canada by France for the memorial, contain undetonated explosives.
The memorial is spectacular... from far away...
...and up close.
Soldiers are honoured here by their names engraved on the memorial. Publisher Al touches the name of a J.A. Driver. He is not related to Al, but Al's grandfather did serve at Vimy.
Soldiers are also remembered here with gifts left by their loved ones.
We will never forget.
One final comment in this blog commemorating those who fought for our freedom...
When we were at Juno Beach, my publishers set three copies of The Little Coat book down on the sand of Juno Beach., and they sprinkled a few grains of sand from that significant beach inside the pages of each of the books.
Days later, they gave one of those special books to this amazing woman....
... Sussie (Cretier) Elliott - the 'little girl' who received 'the little coat' from Bob Elliott and crew in December 1944.
But that's a wonderful story for my next blog.
In the meantime, please pause on November 11th to remember those who served and those who continue to serve today.