The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MARK MCNEIL


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.

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