Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Julia Mackey's One-Woman Play Commemorates Canada's Role on D-Day in Normandy

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Julia Mackey's One-Woman Play Commemorates Canada's Role on D-Day in Normandy

Article excerpt

One-woman play commemorates Canada's D-Day

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REVIERS, France - Chester Hebner, whose remains are at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery near this small village in Normandy, was a gunner with the Royal Canadian Artillery killed on July 11, 1944, during the D-Day campaign.

His name would probably have been remembered by only a few surviving relatives had Julia Mackey not spotted a small maple leaf cut-out propped up against his gravestone a decade ago.

Mackey never met Chester. She was born 23 years after his death.

Mackey is a playwright who divides her time between Vancouver and the small northern B.C. town of Wells. She has incorporated the 29-year-old soldier's background into a one-person play she has performed close to 700 times across Canada and as far afield as Birmingham, England.

The play, Jake's Gift, has been translated into French. Mackey, raised in Montreal, will be performing it in that language on June 11 in Bernières-sur-Mer, a town near Reviers, the location of another Canadian war cemetery.

The 90-minute, one-act play tells the story of Jake, a Canadian veteran who goes to Normandy's Juno Beach for the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004 to visit his brother Chester's grave. He meets a precocious 10-year-old French girl named Isabelle who befriends him despite his gruff manner.

Mackey plays all four parts -- Jake, Isabelle, the girl's aunt and a Canadian schoolteacher named Susan who is also visiting the area.

"There really was a schoolteacher named Susan who was at the Beny-sur-Mer cemetery during the 60th anniversary ceremonies," says Mackey, who is on a sentimental journey back to the beach 10 years after her first visit.

"Her pupils back in Canada made cut-outs of maple leaves with their photos glued to them and a note of thanks to our veterans written on them. Susan gave them to veterans visiting the cemetery and also put them on various gravestones."

It was a maple leaf cut-out made by student Danny Brown that caught Julia's eye as she passed Chester Hebner's gravesite.

"The message Danny had written on it said: 'I think you're great for helping make Canada a peaceful country. Je me souviens. …

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