By Dave Johnson
Seventy-five years ago, more than 150,000 Allied soldiers stormed the French coastline at Normandy, landing on beaches code-named Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah and Omaha.
Canadian soldiers, 14,000 of them, landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944 — D-Day — as the Allies sought to end the Second World War by pushing German forces out of occupied European countries and back into Germany.
Those soldiers from across Canada, including John Feduck, a paratrooper with the First Canadian Parachute Battalion, were in their late teens and early 20s. Some were even younger as they lied about their age to join the Armed Forces in the fight against Germany and the Axis powers.
A Dain City resident, Feduck, who died last November, was 18 years old when he joined. He later lived in Port Colborne after the war.
Feduck was not much older than the Port Colborne High School students portraying soldiers during the filming of"D-Day in 14 Stories," a History Channel Canada documentary commemorating the 75th anniversary of the landings.
The documentary mixes interviews with people who were there on D-Day with re-enactments. It was filmed and produced by Toronto-based Yap Films on the shores of Nickel Beach, and at Marine Recycling Corp. on the Welland Canal last October. It looks at the day through the eyes of 14 Canadian, American, British and German soldiers, French civilians and members of the French Resistance.
Yap executive producer and chief creative officer Elizabeth Trojian said the October weather on the shores of Lake Erie during filming wasn't much different than what young soldiers faced on those French beaches that day — overcast and about 12 Celsius.
"We've made many Second World War films, and Corus (owners of the History Channel) asked us if we would be interested in making a film commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Of course, we said yes," said Trojian in an interview last October.
Nickel Beach was closed to the public, even being in the off-season, during the filming last year as high school drama and history students took on the roles of soldiers — Allied and Axis — along with actors from across Ontario.
"It brings history to life for them," Trojian said of the high school students. "It's one thing to read about it or see a movie about it … but to be on set and watch and hear the guns fire and the landing craft come in."
At the time, she planned to bring her 12-year-old son to the set.
"Hopefully, this will make the kids appreciate what their relatives contributed to the war," she said of the filming and of the documentary.
She said it was important to have students of the same age or close to that of the soldiers that fought to really bring home the fact that it was "just kids" fighting and dying.
"Young people were put in the path of hell on one of the worst days in human history. Sadly, the war had to be fought by really young people."
Asked why Port Colborne's Nickel Beach was selected for filming Trojian said Yap Films' Anja Sobkowska and Peter Twist, and other Yap employees, are quite familiar with the area. Sobkowska, a line producer on the documentary, grew up in the Pelham area.
"It's one of the only beaches we could drive on … we needed that for our props and people," Sobkowska said during the second day of filming.
"We also needed a beach that was large enough where we could switch where our cameras were placed and have different angles."
Having Marine Recycling Corp. nearby with a vessel — the Paul H. Townsend — that didn't require much dressing to act as a Second World War destroyer for scenes also helped the production.
"It was really awesome filming in Port Colborne … everyone was very friendly," Sobkowska, adding it allowed her to see her father, who had moved from Pelham to Port Colborne, during the filming.
Any questions or issues that arose during filming, she said the city's Blair Holinaty, Nickel Beach supervisor, was there to help right away.
Amy Converset, Port High's drama/dance teacher, and principal Ann Kennerly were also very helpful.
"It was wonderful to have the high school students as background actors … a great opportunity for the students," Sobkowska said.
"D-Day in 14 Stories" is currently playing on the History Channel and clips can be found at www.history.ca/shows/d-day-in-14-stories/.