A CHILD AND THE HIGH COST OF DIEPPE
DALE GIBBONS WILL NEVER FORGET
walking the beach of Dieppe that day in April 2016.
The thick covering of fist-sized shiny stones made it so difficult to keep his footing and the cliffs — which once were used for gun placements — looked so foreboding in the distance.
“The rocks were like big marbles. You could barely walk,” the 51-year-old electrician says.
“It was all so overwhelming. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to try to land there while being fired upon.”
But the visit to the beach on the coast of France, with his wife Karen, was also a chance to reflect on how the disastrous raid on Aug. 19, 1942 shaped the destiny of his family.
Both his dad, Frank Gibbons, and twin brother Harry were part of the 582 soldiers with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry that landed that day.
His father was severely wounded and spent the next 10 months in hospital in England. But Uncle Harry never made it back. He was one of 197 Rileys to die.
Then several months later, a child was born to a young woman in East Sussex, England. The mother was Harry’s girlfriend, Jill Petter. Both Gibbons boys were billeted at the Petter house in a community called St. Leonards prior to them being sent to Isle of Wight in 1942 to train for the raid on Dieppe.
It turned out that the 19-year-old Harry stormed the beach that day not knowing that Jill was expecting.
“I guess he was just being a Canadian boy,” says Dale with a smile, adding he had no idea the cousin existed until he was 17 on a trip to England with his dad.
They were sitting in a car with a woman in her 30s, who he had understood was a family friend, when she suddenly asked: “Are you my uncle?” the young woman asked. “Yes I am,” Frank said uncomfortably. “I sat there with my mouth wide open. I couldn’t believe it,” Dale says. Then finally the whole story came out. After Jill was born, she was adopted by her grandparents. The girl grew up thinking her mom was her sister and grandparents were her parents.
It was only when she was in her early 20s — after the woman she thought was her mother had died — that she stumbled upon adoption papers indicating what had happened.
From there, she pieced together that the Gibbons family in Canada — who would send a Christmas parcel from Eaton’s every December — were more than friends. They were family.
“Given the times of having a baby out of wedlock, it was kept a secret for many years. When my father found out, I don’t know,” says Dale, who lives near Paris, Ont.
Over the years, Dale kept in touch with Jill, with the two meeting on several occasions. She died 10 years ago from breast cancer. She is survived by two children and her husband, Clive Loader, still lives in England.
Frank died in 2000. Dale says he was a quiet man who seldom talked about his experience at Dieppe. He lived his days with a badly damaged right eye with shrapnel in his shoulder and buttocks.
Among the many effects Dale has is a newspaper clipping written after Frank returned to Canada. Under a headline that says “Death separates twin brother in Dieppe Raid,” it quotes Frank recalling the last time he saw his twin:
“I turned to my brother and said, ‘Good luck, Harry’ ... I never saw him again.”
Frank and Harry Gibbons were twins and soldiers with the RHLI in Dieppe. Harry died. Frank was wounded. Here before the Dieppe landing, Frank is on the left and Harry on the right holding a dog.
Jill Loader with husband Clive, left, and her uncle Frank at her father’s grave.