Battlefield Bike Ride in Normandy full of unforgettable moments for Quesnel woman

Lindsay Chung shares a moment with D-Day veteran Russ Kaye on Juno Beach June 6 during the final day of the Wounded Warriors Canada Battlefield Bike Ride. This was the first time Kaye stepped onto the beach since he landed here as a 20-year-old gunner with the 43rd Battery E Troop 12 Field Regiment 75 years ago. Kaye accompanied the Battlefield Bike Ride cyclists to various significant sites in Normandy over seven days as they travelled from Dieppe to Juno Beach, and he waited at the beach until the whole group was together before walking onto the sand in front of Canada House. Photo courtesy of Mike Spellen
A Canadian flag flies at Juno Beach, greeting members of the Wounded Warriors Canada Battlefield Bike Ride on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Lindsay Chung photo
Canada House (or La Maison des Canadiens) overlooks Juno Beach in the village of Bernières-sur-Mer and was one of the first houses liberated by Canadian soldiers on D-Day. This spot marked the final destination of this year’s Wounded Warriors Canada Battlefield Bike Ride, a seven-day, 600-kilometre ride from Dieppe to Juno Beach. One hundred and 30 cyclists arrived at Canada House on June 6, accompanied by D-Day veteran Russ Kaye of New Brunswick and his family, as Kaye returned to Normandy for the first time since June 6, 1944. Lindsay Chung photos
Cyclists held a ceremony at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers June 6 during the final day of their Battlefield Bike Ride. The cemetery contains 2,048 Second World War burials, the majority Canadian, and 19 of them unidentified. Many of those buried in Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery were men of the 3rd Canadian Division who died either on D-Day or during the early days of the advance towards Caen.
Members of the Battlefield Bike Ride gathered at Pegasus Bridge June 4 during Day 5 of their seven-day ride from Dieppe to Juno Beach. The bridge crosses the Caen Canal and was a major objective of British airborne troops during the very beginning of the Allied invasion of Normandy. A plaque at the bridge reads: “The British 6th Airborne Division landed near this bridge on the night of 5th June 1944, as a spearhead to the Allied Armies of Liberation.” Lindsay Chung photo
Cyclists stop for a cappuccino break in one of the quaint towns they passed through on their seven-day Battlefield Bike Ride. Lindsay Chung photo
A group of cyclists travel along beautiful country roads in Normandy during Day 3 of the Battlefield Bike Ride, which took them from Rouen to Deauville on June 2. Lindsay Chung photo
The sun rises above the beach at Dieppe, where Canadians and their Allies landed Aug. 19, 1942, during Operation Jubilee. This year’s Battlefield Bike Ride brought 130 cyclists into Dieppe May 31, and from there, they rode to Rouen on their way to Juno Beach. Lindsay Chung photo
Gravestones at the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery. The Battlefield Bike Ride cyclists held a service at the cemetery May 31 during the first day of their seven-day ride. Lindsay Chung photo
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of more than 9,380 American servicemen, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified. The Battlefield Bike Ride visited the cemetery June 5 on the sixth day of the seven-day ride from Dieppe to Juno Beach. Lindsay Chung photo
Poppies grow in a field along the route between Rouen and Deauville. Lindsay Chung photo

On the morning of June 6, 95-year-old Russ Kaye stepped down onto Juno Beach, surrounded by family members and new friends – who were part of the Wounded Warriors Canada Battlefield Bike Ride.

It was the first time he returned to the beach since landing there as a 20-year-old gunner with the 43rd Battery E Troop 12th Field Regiment during the Operation Overlord on D-Day 75 years earlier, and the 130 cyclists from across Canada shared handshakes and hugs with Kaye during this special moment.

With this year’s Battlefield Bike Ride, Wounded Warriors Canada was able to bring Kaye, who is from Riverview, N.B., to Juno Beach with a group of cyclists. The group included his son, Chris Kaye, who is also a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, as well as cyclists who hail from B.C. to Newfoundland and everywhere in between, including this writer.

Standing on Juno Beach with Russ Kaye is a moment I won’t ever forget.

It was an emotional and unbelievable way to end our seven-day, 600-kilometre bike ride through Normandy, a journey that was filled with many unforgettable moments, as we cycled from Dieppe to the village of Bernières-sur-Mer, where we all gathered on the beach in front of Canada House, one of the first houses liberated by Canadian soldiers on D-Day.

The Battlefield Bike Ride (BBR19) began May 31 with a visit to the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, and the ride took us along country roads and through small towns from Dieppe to Rouen, to Deauville on the coast and then to Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, near Omaha Beach, where the Americans landed on D-Day. Between May 31 and June 6, the group visited the Merville Gun Battery; Pegasus Bridge; the Abbaye d’Ardenne, where Canadian prisoners of war were executed by the Germans; the 172.5-acre Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial; Omaha Beach; the Longues-sur-Mer German Battery; Canada House at Juno Beach, which was the first house liberated by Canadians on June 6, 1944; and the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, where most of the Canadians who died on D-Day are buried.

Throughout the ride, as we visited these significant sites, we learned about the important history of all these places and often held a service to remember and honour the sacrifices of all those who served there. Taking the time to remember Canadians’ service and sacrifice, and to honour those who died is such an important part of these Battlefield Bike Rides. I feel very fortunate I had the chance to be part of these services and to step foot where so many Canadians did so much.

A big part of these rides is also looking at the present and the future by supporting serving Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans and first responders. The Battlefield Bike Ride is the largest fundraiser for Wounded Warriors Canada each year, generally raising around $400,000 for mental health programs for Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, first responders and their families who are affected by Operational Stress Injuries. This year’s ride has raised over $650,000. Many of the cyclists who take part in the ride year after year have gone through one or more of the programs delivered by Wounded Warriors Canada, and it is so powerful to hear about how much these programs have helped them and their families.

The Battlefield Bike Ride is an event designed through the lens of Wounded Warriors Canada’s guiding ethos: Honour the fallen and help the living.

To date, more than 500 cyclists have participated in the events, collectively raising over $2.5 million in support of national mental health programs and services benefiting ill and injured Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans and first responders and their families across Canada.

Each year, the group of cyclists includes serving and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces, veterans, active and retired first responders and civilians from across the country.

I am so grateful to everyone in the community who helped me reach my $4,000 fundraising minimum so I could contribute to this important fundraiser. Thank you.

READ MORE: Quesnel woman to host fundraising concert at Pen-Y-Bryn Farm this weekend

READ MORE: Wells playwright returning to Normandy with show inspired by visiting for 60th anniversary of D-Day

Lindsay Chung
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