Wednesday, June 6, 2012

D-Day Prayer in Calgary, 6 June 1944

Crowds on 1st Street SW, Calgary 6 June 1944
Canadian thoughts on the anniversary of D-DAy, are focused on the beaches of Normandy.  Those on the homefront during the Second World War also gave their thoughts to the men in France, and many took to the streets to show their solidarity.  Calgarians on 6th June 1944, took time from their day for a public prayer, in a show of concern for the soldiers, hopes for victory and a lasting peace after the conflict.

The display was not exactly spontaneous, having been organized by the Calgary Ministerial Association, and sanctioned by the mayor of Calgary.  An estimated 15,000 people who gathered on 1st Street West at 7-8th Avenues abandoned their daily duties to join in prayer.  Author Grant MacEwan, in his Calgary Cavalcade : From Fort to Fortune (1975), estimated that one sixth of the city's total population showed up that day to show their support. MacEwan wrote,
As if by magic the word went around downtown Calgary.  Stores closed at 11.20 a.m., and at 11.35 a military band led the huge host of earnest people in the singing of "O Canada." Usual street noises having ceased, the singing could be heard at Mount Royal College, almost a mile away.   (MacEwan, p.174)
The Calgary Herald  reported that the ceremony had a number of symbols familiar to Remembrance Day.  One Reverend Morley noted that it had been twenty-six years since the, "fallen heroes of the last war" in John McCrae's "immortal poem" had pleaded "to you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high." In keeping with Remembrance Day rituals, a minute of silence was held.

The Herald recorded the reaction from a cross section of Calgarians, most of whom were confident of success.  Worried mothers were happy, if concerned, and servicemen wished they were with their buddies on the beaches of France.  The Herald noted that there had been great anticipation of the event,
The announcement that today was D-Day did not surprise many Calgarians.  Most of them had expected that the invasion would be timed by the capture of Rome.
'Besides being a moral victory for us, the fall of Rome proved that our force in Italy do not need further support, and that our troops are now free to concentrate on France,' said a man who had been a major in the last war.
Advertising for War Savings Certificates shows the invasion was much anticipated.  6 June 1944 Calgary Herald.
The public ceremony, and its press reportage, is interesting for the what it does and does not say.  Were the protestant hymns happily sung by those who did not practice the faith? Did Calgarians really have the confidence of success that news articles portrayed? Some may not have believed this was the real show at all after false rumours of the invasion had been previously leaked.

As an instance when the fighting in Europe and the Canadian homefront are clearly linked, the public display frames an interesting moment in the Canadian experience of the Second World War.  Yet, as might be expected, the historical record cannot answer a myriad of questions regarding how thousands of diverse citizens understood the war.

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