Royal Regina Rifles statue to be unveiled at Juno Beach to mark D-Day’s 80th year

A statue depicting the Canadians who fought Nazi Germany 80 years ago will have a permanent home near the beaches they stormed on D-Day.

The Royal Regina Rifles statue is to be unveiled Wednesday at Juno Beach in France, a day ahead of the milestone anniversary of the invasion that launched the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

The names of 458 soldiers from the infantry unit who died during that conflict are etched in the statue’s base.

The Regina Rifles were among the first Canadians to storm Juno Beach on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day. The soldiers battled alongside troops from the United States and United Kingdom to dislodge Nazis from northern France, marking the decisive turning point in the conflict.

Alberta artist Don Begg sculpted the two-metre bronze statue of a soldier on the move, weapon raised. It’s meant to depict the Everyman from Saskatchewan, said Kelsey Lonie, a military historian and spokesperson for the project.

She said the face on the statue shows a soldier stressed from battle but determined to liberate France.

“We didn’t want to make it look like anyone in particular,” Lonie said of the statue. 

“Men from all of Saskatchewan – dentists, farmers, Indigenous folks and citizens – were part of the campaign.”

The statue was shown earlier this year at a ceremony at the Saskatchewan War Memorial outside the legislature in Regina. It also made a stop on the nearby Peepeekisis First Nation. More than 40 members from the community had served in the war.

Nearly 150,000 allied troops stormed the French beaches on D-Day, including 14,000 Canadians. By the end of the battle, 209,000 had died, including close to 19,000 Canadians.

Nick Kazuska, a 104-year-old veteran who landed on Juno Beach that day, was at the ceremony in Regina.

“I don’t remember too much about D-Day. I remember the bombing knocked me down,” Kazuska said in an interview from his home in Saskatoon.

Lonie said the statue is meant to keep those memories alive.

“A lot of veterans have passed away. And one of the things we were afraid of was the memories would fade as time passes and there’s no one to carry on that legacy,” she said.

“As more time passes, (the statue) acts as a bookmark, where we can keep turning the pages of history but always come back to this moment, because there’s a monument that jogs our memory.”

Lonie and members of the Regina Rifles were headed to France for the unveiling ceremony there. They’ll were also take part in a 10-day tour, including a viewing the battlefield.

Veterans Affairs Canada said a handful of those who fought on D-Day would also be in attendance.

“I think I’m just most interested to speak with (the veterans) and thank them for their service,” Lonie said.

The children of veterans are extremely appreciative, she added, as their parents didn’t always recount much of their time in war.

“A lot of time has passed, so a lot of life has been lived,” she said.

“I think as they got older, they realized the significance of what they had done. When you’re in it, you’re not even sure it’s going to work. You’re just following orders, you’re landing and you’re hoping you can liberate Nazi-occupied Europe.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

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