UPDATED – Uncovering Valour: A Juno Beach memorial journey 75 years in the making

(Geoffrey Osborne on Juno Beach looking out to sea where his Grandfather, Earl Olmsted, would have landed. All photos: Geoffrey Osborne from following in his Grandfather’s footsteps.)

In June, we shared the story of one Grandson’s mission to discover more of the story that his Grandfather, Earl Olmsted, had left behind. Geoff is continuing research to discover further history from his Grandfather’s military career and travelled to the United Kingdom and Normandy, France to retrace his Grandfather’s footsteps. Geoff attended the June ceremonies for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.

Thoughts on Juno75 —

Earl Olmsted was 25 years old and one of the many Canadians who volunteered at the outbreak of World War II in 1939 to serve King and Country. Olmsted, an accounting clerk and reservist from Ottawa – a former resident of the Amberwood neighbourhood in Stittsville – was quickly commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the artillery and sent to aid in the defence of Britain.

(The landscape of Juno Beach looking towards the shore, June 2019)

After four years of war, in June, 1944 the 29 year old Captain Olmsted found himself serving in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division Headquarters aboard HMS Hilary – acting as an operations liaison in the staff of General R.F.L. Keller. They were part of the largest invasion force that had ever been assembled and were headed straight into one of the most well defended and fortified areas of the world – Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. Olmsted died in Toronto in 2008, followed by his son Bruce in 2012, who was most familiar with his father’s military career and stories, which were at risk of being forgotten.

(Canada House in Normandy as it appeared on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day in 2019)

This past June, Olmsted’s grandson, Geoff Osbornealso 29 years old – traveled to England and then Normandy, France (via ferry from the same harbor from which his grandfather sailed in 1944) for the official Juno75 ceremony to meet with veterans and retrace his grandfather’s footsteps. Geoffrey provided Stittsville Central with the following comments about his historical venture —

 “Having the opportunity walk on Juno Beach earlier this year – while I was the same age as my grandfather was when he landed there – I cannot easily describe in words. It was an incredibly humbling and emotional experience that really put things in perspective.”

“While I am hopping over potholes on Yonge Street in Toronto on my daily commute – 75 years ago my grandfather was hopping over shell holes and dodging bullets in Normandy while doing his part to liberate Europe.”

(Geoffrey seeing the French coast at dawn, the village of Caen – 2019)

The stories of D-Day and those left behind were so moving that the Globe and Mail picked up on Geoffrey’s story and published it, along with three others, in the June 5, 2019 edition that you can read here –https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-d-day-confidential-how-four-canadian-soldiers-made-it-through-their/.

1994 Stittsville News Article and Video

While doing his research, Osborne was shocked to find out just how much information he was able to obtain through military record research requests, unit diaries, letters home, interviews, and personal artifacts. By complete chance, he came upon a 1994 newspaper clipping from the Stittsville News. Lesley McKay was able to find the document in the Stittsville Library microfilms and located dozens of D-Day accounts from local residents, including one on Geoff’s grandfather. Lesley was able to find those profiled in the series of articles who were: Jack Tennant, Lester Mitchell, Sheldon Spearman, Richard Jamieson, Des Coughtrey, Robert Loverock, Earl Geddes, George Murphy, Roy Schmelzer, Benny Ryan, Frank Glennon, William Howe, Earl Olmsted, Leonard Saull, Ted Earle.

The article also mentioned that a film had been prepared with all of the personal interviews and was being shown at two Legion BranchesRichmond and Stittsville. Geoff Osborne has offered a $500.00 reward to anyone that can locate the video, as efforts to find it have so far been unsuccessful. Geoffrey and Lesley are still in pursuit to find this film. If you have any information about the film, please contact Geoffrey directly at  Geoff.d.osborne.research@gmail.com or you can contact Stittsville Central – feedback@stittsvillecentral.ca.

Canadian Research and Mapping Association (CRMA) PROJECT ’44

While in France, Geoff was introduced to Nathan Kehler from the Canadian Research and Mapping Association (CRMA) who have  launched their Project’44 initiative to map all Canadian military units in WWII.

(A map of the D-Day landings portrayed by Project’44)

Project ’44 is an online commemoration project launched in the summer of 2019 for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The website combines basemaps, unit positions, and war diaries into an online experience focused on the First Canadian Army and the Victory Campaign.

Thanks to Geoff, we were able to approach Nathan Kehler, co-creator of Project ’44 along with Drew Hannan, to provide further information on this important and engaging endeavour. We really wanted to know what the inspiration was behind it all. Nathan filled Stittsville Central in with his thoughts on the beginnings and how it evolved from there.

The inspiration to make Project ’44 came from Drew and I who both share a passion for maps and history. Drew told me about the Library and Archives Canada’s extensive collection of maps from the Second World War, as well as their war diary collection. We realized that we could combine both into an online web map that was easier for Canadians to understand.

“The mapping and optical character recognition (OCR) took almost 18 months. We started as sort of a passion project, but over time it grew more and more to the point that Drew and I are working on this project full time.

“To date we have had 48,000 visitors to the website.

Maps are important to soldiers, as many of the life-altering decisions on where to attack, or where to go on patrol are made on maps. Our team is now working on the second phase of Project ’44: The Road to Liberation and are mapping from September 1944 to May 1945 and will have all the war diaries of the First Canadian Army available on our web map. We anticipate about 10,000 pages of War diaries will soon be accessible to Canadians.”

(View of the countryside of Normandy in June 2019. Notice the wild poppies in the meadows.)

At some point there will be no remaining veterans from D-Day – one of Canada’s most historic battles – and even today only a few heroes remain. Hopefully this story can inspire others to not only remember our veterans but to uncover the stories of the Canadians who landed on Juno Beach and fought throughout WWII helping to alter the course of history and provide us with the freedoms we know today.

(Geoffrey Osborne retracing the steps that his Grandfather would have taken upon landing at Juno Beach in 1944.)

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