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Grade 10 Student Recreates Juno Beach Landing

June 06, 2024

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For Grade 10 Westwood Collegiate student Alyssa A., the idea of writing an essay about a role in Canada's history wasn't as appealing as building a model to recreate that history.

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She pitched the idea of building a World War II diorama in place of an essay to her history teacher. He agreed.
“I really like history and I understand wars more than anything," explains Alyssa.

That was in the early fall of 2023. As the first semester wore on, Alyssa had to pick an event. She was torn between the Battle of the Atlantic or the D-Day landing of Canadian forces on Juno Beach.

Eventually, she opted for the latter as she felt the significance of the Canadian role, combined with the geography of the landing lent itself better to modelling.

“[Germans] were shooting at them from 10 minutes away in pillboxes," explains Alyssa, adding that conditions were trying as soldiers fought their way up shore in rough conditions. Some didn't make it to shore.

Juno Beach was one of five landing beaches along the coast of Normandy for the Allied invasion of German-occupied France during WWII. Over 14,000 Canadian soldiers stormed Juno Beach as part of the largest sea, air and land military operation in history. Their efforts helped turn the tide of the war. Over 5,000 Canadian soldiers died during the Normandy Campaign. June 6, 2024 marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

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To gather pertinent information that would help her reconstruct the landing, Alyssa studied D-Day photos from the archives of the Canadian War Museum and visited Winnipeg's Military Museum at Minto Armories.
In her research, Alyssa was most surprised by the impact of weather conditions on the operation. There was a storm in the English Channel the day prior that forced decisionmakers to push D-Day to June 6. Even so, the impact of the storm lingered on landing day, causing white caps and difficult conditions for troops struggling to make landing.

All of this, combined with the geography of the beach, the nearby fishing port of Courseulees-sur-Mer, and the divisions, equipment and strategies involved on both sides, played into Alyssa's final diorama.

“D-Day happened because of the weather conditions," explains Alyssa. “We looked at lots of pictures and articles, the weather conditions, and timelines."

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The entire process of planning and modelling the event took Alyssa about four months of work, with the majority of construction taking place between winter break and the end of January. The project was so big that the Grade 10 student enlisted the help of her mom, dad and sister.
“Hours were spent," says Alyssa, adding a lot of all-nighters were pulled.

The land was built using insulation foam. Soldiers, boats, planes and buildings were purchased, then assembled and painted as needed. The cobblestone streets of Courseulees-sur-Mer were created using UV resin. The beach was recreated using two types of sand hardened with glue. Cotton balls were painted to mimic the appearance of smoke.

Alyssa points out that other landing sites like Omaha Beach often get more attention because of the high casualty rate. “Each beach had its struggles, and each one is unique in its own ways," she says. “We took on a similar beach and we took it back."

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And they didn't stop there, she adds. They pushed inland and northeast along the coast to the Netherlands.
Alyssa says the project is important because “it's something that is part of our history as a country."

“It shows how hard the veterans fought at D-Day," she says, adding they “sacrificed so much just for our freedom that we have now."

Alyssa completed the Juno Beach diorama for a Grade 11 class in Historical Investigation.

Congrats to Alyssa on her amazing work!



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