Re­mem­ber­ing Dieppe

As we mark the 75th an­niver­sary of the Dieppe Raid, the sac­ri­fice of Cana­di­ans who fought there will never be for­got­ten

Our Canada - - News - by Tim Fletcher, Grimsby, Ont.

Mark­ing the 75th an­niver­sary of the Dieppe Raid, a costly World War II bat­tle in which many Cana­di­ans made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice for the free­dom we en­joy to­day.

Au­gust 19, 2017, marks the 75th an­niver­sary of the hor­ren­dous raid on Dieppe, France, where Canada suf­fered its largest sin­gle-day num­ber of ca­su­al­ties in all of World War II—916 were killed and thou­sands more wounded and/ or cap­tured by the Nazis.

Only 21 years af­ter the hor­ror of World War I, the world went mad again. World War II be­gan on Septem­ber 1, 1939, when Nazi Ger­many in­vaded Poland. Poland’s al­lies Bri­tain and France de­clared war on Ger­many and Canada sup­ported Bri­tain.

Ger­many con­quered The Nether­lands, Bel­gium and France by June 1940. Italy also in­vaded France and Libya, and with Ger­many tried to cap­ture Egypt and the vi­tal Suez Canal from Bri­tain.

In June 1941, Ger­many in­vaded the Soviet Union and ad­vanced to Moscow be­fore be­ing halted in De­cem­ber 1941. In the Pa­cific, Ja­pan at­tacked Pearl Har­bor in De­cem­ber 1941, then cap­tured or at­tacked Al­lied ter­ri­to­ries in the Pa­cific and South­east Asia and ad­vanced to the bor­ders of In­dia and Aus­tralia.

It was in this grim at­mos­phere of losses that in 1942, the United States and Rus­sia de­manded more ac­tion against Ger­many. To take pres­sure off the East­ern Front, a large raid on the French port of Dieppe was planned. Canada— al­though it had sent two bat­tal­ions of in­fantry to the Bat­tle of Hong Kong—was tired of not hav­ing taken an ac­tive role in the Eu­ro­pean war to that point. As a re­sult, the 2nd Cana­dian In­fantry Di­vi­sion ( 2CID) was or­dered to carry out the Dieppe Raid. Code-named “Oper­a­tion Ju­bilee,” the raid took place Au­gust 19, 1942, af­ter one false start.

More than 6,100 troops took part— 4,963 from 2CID alone. Also tak­ing part were 1,075 Bri­tish Com­man­dos, 50 U.S. Rangers (who suf­fered Amer­ica’s first Eu­ro­pean ca­su­alty) and 20 French sol­diers from No. 10 (In­ter-al­lied) Com­mando. The raid was sup­ported by eight small de­stroy­ers and 74 air squadrons, in­clud­ing eight from the Royal Cana­dian Air Force. It was the largest raid of the war.

My reg­i­ment, the Royal Hamil­ton Light In­fantry— a. k. a. the RHLI or “Ri­leys”— was part of 2CID, and landed on the right side of the main beach, op­po­site a casino. Only 211 of the 582 RHLI sol­diers who went ashore at Dieppe re­turned to Eng­land af­ter­wards and, of those, 109 were wounded. More than 170 oth­ers could not be evac­u­ated and be­came pris­on­ers of war.

Over­all, Oper­a­tion Ju­bilee took a heavy toll. The Al­lies suf- fered 1,2000 killed (in­cludig 916 Cana­di­ans), 1,600 wounded, and 2,000 taken pris­oner. The civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of the Dieppe re­gion suf­fered 48 killed and 100 wounded. The Ger­man Army had 350 killed or miss­ing, and nearly 300 wounded. In to­tal, nearly 1,600 peo­ple died that day.

The raid re­mains con­tro­ver­sial to this date. Many, if not most, veter­ans and his­to­ri­ans be­lieve it was set up by Win­ston Churchill to fail, to prove to the United States and the Sovi­ets that in­va­sion at that time was im­prac­ti­cal. One thing re­mains un­de­ni­able: It was a hu­man tragedy that per­son­ally af­fected tens of thou­sands in all cor­ners of Canada. It’s said that not a fam­ily in Hamil­ton re­mained un­touched. The vil­lage of Leger’s Cor­ner in New Brunswick re­named it­self Dieppe in 1946 to com­mem­o­rate the raid, even though there were no New Brunswick units in­volved.

I have been to Dieppe twice with the RHLI; my wife and I are go­ing again this year with my

reg­i­ment. It is im­pos­si­ble to re­main un­moved when you visit the ceme­tery above the town with its “crosses row on row,” or walk that blood- soaked loose stone beach, and those at Pourville and Puys where other Cana­dian units landed. It is a won­der any­one sur­vived; the beaches are sur­rounded by high cliffs and were supremely well-for­ti­fied.

I have been there with veter­ans of the raid as these men in their 80s and 90s broke down and cried, as they never had time for on that fate­ful day. I have been there to see tens of thou­sands of Diep­pois line the streets in grat­i­tude, crowds our veter­ans never saw back home.

In Hamil­ton on Au­gust 19, 2003, on the 61st an­niver­sary of the raid, the won­der­ful Dieppe Vet­eran’s Memo­rial Park was opened on the Lake On­tario shore­line. I video-recorded sev­eral veter­ans shar­ing their rec­ol­lec­tions of that day. What is amaz­ing to me is that af­ter the ter­ri­ble treat­ment these veter­ans faced, they were able to re­tain any form of hu­mour at all.

Only two Ri­leys now re­main from that fate­ful day: Cpl. Fred En­gle­brecht of Hamil­ton, now 94 and still feisty, and Cpl. Ken Curry of Bri­tish Columbia, also 94, with a ra­zor- sharp mem­ory. It is through sto­ries like this one, and at­ten­dance at Re­mem­brance Day ser­vices, that the mem­ory of all veter­ans can be pre­served. This is not to glo­rify war— quite the op­po­site. It is only through ed­u­ca­tion and re­mem­brance that the hor­rors of war will never be for­got­ten for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. n

Tran­scripts of Tim’s in­ter­views are avail­able at http://www.rhli.ca/ dieppe/dieppein­ter­views.html.

Top down: RHLI Dieppe veter­ans and POWS (rear left) Jack Mcfar­land, (rear right) Fred En­gle­brecht, (front) Ken Curry; the view from a ma­chine gun post look­ing down on the Dieppe beach; the front page of the Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor the day af­ter the raid.

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