‘We danced in the streets with the soldiers’: French civilians recall joys, horrors of D-Day

D-Day June 5, 2019 5:05 am Updated: June 5, 2019 5:27 am

By Jeff Semple Senior Digital Broadcast Journalist  Global News

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Thérèse Le Chevalier was just 15 years old on June 6, 1944, but she can still hear the bombs that heralded the beginning of the D-Day invasion.

“It was a harsh sound,” she recalls. “My father had dug a trench in the backyard. And so we spent the whole night lying in the trench.”

READ MORE: Remembering D-Day: How the Allies broke through Hitler’s ‘Fortress Europe’

Le Chevalier grew up in the French coastal village of Bernières-sur-Mer in Normandy, on what is now Juno Beach. She and her family spent four years living under Nazi occupation.

“It was not easy to live, particularly because food was difficult to get,” she says.

The Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France 75 years ago marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War. But that victory came at a great cost, including to the French population in Normandy. By the time the sun set on D-Day, around 2,500 French civilians had been killed, some caught in the crossfire of Allied bombs.

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French civilian Thérèse Le Chevalier was 15-years-old during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.Trevor Owens / Global News
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Thérèse Le Chevalier shares her memories of Nazi occupation and D-Day at an event in Bernières-sur-Mer, France.Jeff Semple / Global News
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Le Chevalier and other surviving French civilians who endured occupation and liberation are now sharing their stories as part of a new exhibition called In Their Footsteps. It was organised by the Juno Beach Centre, a museum in Normandy dedicated to the 14,000 Canadian soldiers who fought on D-Day.

“The Canadians who came to liberate Juno Beach didn’t come to liberate rocks — they came to liberate people,” says Nathalie Worthington, director of the Juno Beach Centre. “There were people living here; you had families who had children. And they’ve experienced all the traumas of German occupation and then the traumas of liberation.”

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