Emotional moment at Juno Beach for Battlefield cyclists

Second World War veteran Russ Kaye is joined by Battlefield Bike Ride cyclists as he makes his way down the steps to set foot on Juno Beach for the first time in 75 years. Photo by John W. Penner/John’s Photography

Second World War veteran Russ Kaye is joined by Battlefield Bike Ride cyclists as he makes his way down the steps to set foot on Juno Beach for the first time in 75 years. Photo by John W. Penner/John’s Photography

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

When 95-year-old Second World War veteran Russ Kaye set foot on Juno beach for the first time since D-Day, he wasn’t making his steps in its dark brown sand alone.

Over 75 years ago on June 6, 1944, the former gunner with 43rd Battery E Troop 12 Field Regiment was one of thousands of brave Canadians who stormed the beach as part of the historic D-Day Landings near Courseulles-sur-Mer, France. Taking Juno beach was a responsibility that mainly fell to Canada’s army and in the end their mission claimed the lives of an estimated 359 Canadians, 574 wounded and 47 taken as prisoners of war. They added to the approximately 225,000 Allied casualties killed during the entire D-Day Invasion, of which an estimated 18,000 Canadians made the supreme sacrifice.

To mark that historic day, Kaye and his family were joined on Juno Beach by a large contingent of cyclists who were taking part in the Wounded Warriors Canada Battlefield Bike Ride 2019 and were hosting the family for the event. Everyone gathered with Kaye to share the experience of returning to Juno.

“He walked onto the beach with our cyclists surrounding him, many shook his hand while many others hugged him” said Battlefield Bike Ride Director and rider Captain Jacqueline Zweng of the Regional Cadet Support Unit (Pacific). Capt Zweng describes Kaye as a stoic man who didn’t show much emotion during his pilgrimage but also one who remembers each one of the friends he lost during the invasion of France.

“That was the highlight of the Battlefield Bike Ride for me, being able to be there with Mister Kaye along with members of his family,” said fellow rider Captain Robert Dodds, Commanding Officer of ‘A’ Company of the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s). “He embraced us all and was very happy for us to be there and share the moment with him.

Captain (Navy) (ret’d)  Mary-Ellen Clark who now works as business manager at Joint Task Force Pacific (JTFP) said Kaye’s health and vigour were remarkable and described his first step back on Juno as a “pinnacle moment” for her.

“It was sacred ground and was the spot where Kaye as a young Private, along with countless other Canadians in the same boots, ran towards the enemy to defend the precious freedoms we enjoy today,” said Clark. “No one spoke, it was truly a sacred moment.”

The May 30 to June 6 event involved a team of 130 riders cycling over 600 km to some of France’s most famous Second World War battle sites, monuments and memorials in an effort to raise funds and awareness for mental health programs for military Veterans, First Responders and their families. Wounded Warriors Canada had invited Kaye and family members to be their guest for the journey but Zweng says at first Kaye had no interest in returning to Juno.

“He [Kaye] said he had spent 75 years trying to forget Juno but leading up to the event he then felt a responsibility to represent his comrades and walk the steps they weren’t able to” said Capt Zweng.

Kaye’s son Chris Kaye, also a military veteran, and his wife Linda Kaye were among the team of riders who took part in this year’s Battlefield Bike Ride and were instrumental in convincing the family patriarch to attend.

Among their stops the riders and their guests visited the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, Juno Beach and Canada House, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Abbaye d`Ardenne where Canadian prisoners of war were executed by the Germans, Omaha Beach, site of the United States forces D-Day landing, the Merville Gun Battery, Pegasus Bridge and the Longues-sur-Mer German Battery.

Riders were responsible for reaching fundraising targets of $4000 before their participation. Since it began in 2014, Battlefield Bike Ride has raised over $2.5-million in funding for Wounded Warriors Canada and visiting battle sites in France, Holland, Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia among others.

For more information about the event visit their website: https://bbr19.ca

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