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D-Day memories linger for Victoria residents, 70 years on

Leslie Saul, 89, served aboard the HMCS Gatineau patrolling the English Channel during the Second World War. Gatineau was dismantled at Capital Iron shipyards following the war, and its barge sunk at Royston to create a breakwater. - Daniel Palmer/News staff
Leslie Saul, 89, served aboard the HMCS Gatineau patrolling the English Channel during the Second World War. Gatineau was dismantled at Capital Iron shipyards following the war, and its barge sunk at Royston to create a breakwater.
— image credit: Daniel Palmer/News staff

Sally Walker recalls the rumble of thousands of aircraft flying over her radar station somewhere along the Dorset coastline on June 6, 1944.

Walker and her fellow Royal Air Force technicians stepped outside to watch, unaware they were witnessing the beginning of the largest seaborne invasion in history.

"I remember the two big Hengist and Horsa aeroplanes, these enormous (partially) wooden gliders built to take the airborne troops. They were so impressive," she says from her Fairfield home.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, or D-Day, when more than 156,000 Allied troops – including 14,000 Canadians – stormed the beaches of Normandy and changed the course of the Second World War.

Canada's troops were charged with taking taking Juno beach, one of five beaches heavily defended by the Germans along France's coastline.

Amongst the 50 Canadian naval destroyers was HMCS Gatineau, a former Royal Navy ship transferred to Canada in the run-up to D-Day.

Gatineau sustained some damage during the invasion but still made it back to English ports, where 18-year-old Winnipeg native Leslie Saul joined its ranks.

"We headed over to northern Scotland, then back to Ireland and then the English Channel, where we were patrolling and protecting merchant ships," said Victoria resident Saul, now 89. A few near-misses with German U-boats occurred, but Saul returned safely to Canada following Victoria in Europe (VE) Day on June 8, 1945.

After the war ended, Saul followed news of Gatineau and learned she had sailed through the Panama canal to Victoria, where it was dismantled at Capital Iron's shipyard in the Inner Harbour in 1956. (The hull was then barged up-Island to Royston and sunk to create a breakwater for a lumber operation. Its remnants can still be sighted today.)

"I went to see (Gatineau's hull) after I was married," Saul said. "She went through most of the war and got into some action. And you get very attached to your ship as a sailor, it's your home and your shipmates are there. So it was very sad to see her sunk there."

Seven decades on, and the memories of the Second World War still linger for many in Greater Victoria.

IMAX D-Day screening free to vets, serving forces today

Veterans, active forces and cadets in uniform or with medals receive free admission to IMAX Victoria’s D-Day: Normandy 1944 screenings at 10 a.m., 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. all day today. The 10 a.m. screening features a short talk prior to the film on the significance of D-Day.

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