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'Jubilee' To Be A Canadian 'Show'

Our Maple Leaf Up tour of north-western Europe took its name from the fact that during World War II, once an area had been occupied by our soldiers, Canadian forces erected their own directional signs. Roads that led towards the front were marked with an upright maple leaf symbol. Those that indicated the route to the rear, were marked with an upside down maple leaf marker.

Our tour took us to a number of places made memorable by the courage and bravery of Canadian soldiers. At great cost in blood, they breached the Nazis "impenetrable shield" as they fought their way into Germany. No place was more poignan than our visit to Dieppe, where we arrived on August 19, fifty-one years to the day of the suicidal assault on the tiny French port carried out at catastrophic cost in Canadian casualties.

photo by G. Wilson

photo by
G. Wilson
[The steeple of this church was used to orient the Canadian attackers as they assaulted the beach at Dieppe. It is designated on the Dieppe photo above with a small arrow.]

From Calais we drove down the coast of France. The flat, open landscape was highlighted with rolling wooded hills, this lovely land that has seen so much sorrow over the centuries. The tidy countryside bore witness to the work of French farmers, who while seldom seen in the fields, left ample evidence of their skills in the cultivated crops that stretched away to the horizon.

Dieppe, a bright,bustling, attractive city provided few clues to its sad signifcance for our country. Its narrow, winding, cobblestone streets are lined with cramped, crowded shops that beckoned buyers like magnets. Merchants weilding hose and broom begin each day scrubbing their portion of the sidewalk while cries of 'Fresh Fish' fill the morning air as fishermen set up their stalls around the colourful square.

Many of the houses are constructed of multi-coloured bricks that are arranged in intricate and diverse design. Flowers bloomed in splendid profusion in the manicured yards and the over-flowing flower boxes that decorated the lamp posts along the streets. The roundabouts or intersections, which were a delight to the eye, were lovingly landscaped with beautifully maintained flower gardens.

When we finally saw the 'infamous' seaside from the towering cliffs that overlooked the stony beach, we were immediately struck with emotions that were a mixture of awe and outrage at the terrible task that had been assigned to our soldiers.

Towering Cliffs Overlooking the Beach
photo by G. Wilson

Crowded Beach

The beaches and their approaches were alive with laughter and vigorous activity for ironically the site of our sorrows is far better known as a place of pleasure, fun and frolic. Dieppe has long been a vacation spot of renown and even in the midst of the mayhem of 1942 the port was a popular rest and relaxation centre for the German officers.

On that bright, warm, August day, vacationers were everywhere, swimming, running, sunning, oblivious of the uncomfortable footing on which they played and lay. The beach is bereft of sand and is covered rather with rocks, smooth, round gravel called 'shingle' on which it is very hard to wqlk.

No Sand Just Shingle on Beach
photo by
G. Wilson

Even wearing running shoes, it was difficult to walk on it because the shingle shifted underfoot. One can only imagine difficult time the troops had wearing army boots, as they slipped and slid in a frantic effort to find footing, fight and seek shelter from the unremitting hail of lead cutting them to pieces.

High atop the headlands that overlook every square inch of beach, German gunners in caves and concrete bunkers spotted every movement, anticipated every turn, fired on every figure. It was for them like shooting fish in a barrel.

German Bunker Atop Headland
photo by
G. Wilson

Several of the ominously ugly bunkers remain as reminders of that terrible time. Now they peek out from behind bushes, as though shameful of their horrid past and hopeful of hiding their fearsome forms from the gaze of golfers, who now play on the course that crowns the heights.

Acts of courage are commonplace in war, but few received the recognition they so sorely deserved, because they were not recorded. During this attack on Dieppe, two Canadians did receive recognition for bravery under fire. They were awarded the British Commonwealth's highest honour, the Victoria Cross.

Victoria Cross

In that inferno of fire, Padre John Weir Foote, Regimental Chaplain of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, calmly worked among the wounded for eight interminable hours, helping to move injured men to a first aid post and saving many lives through his brave efforts. At the end of the ordeal, he jumped from a landing craft, which would have taken him to safety, and walked courageously into the German ranks to be taken prisoner, so he could minister to fellow Canadians who had become 'POWs', Prisoners of War. In the course of caring with utter disregard for self, he won the Victoria Cross for valour. The Reverend John Weir Foote was the first member of the Canadian Chaplain Services to be awarded the Victoria Cross 'for valor' in the face of the enemy.

Padre John Weir Foote
Died at age of 84 on 2 May 1988 and is buried in Union Cemetery, Cobourg, Ontario,

The second Victoria Cross recipient was Colonel Charles Cecil Ingersol Merritt. Further down the beach is what today is called Lieutenant Colonel Meritt's Bridge. In 1942 following the landing at Pourville, the South Saskatchewan Regiment made their way toward the town of Dieppe. As they struggled to cross the bridge swept by machine gun and mortar fire, 'Cec' Merritt came forward and took charge himself. Walking calmly into the fusilade of fire on the bridge, he led party after party across by the sheer force of his example. Other men forded or swam the river but in spite of their valiant efforts, the advance was halted and they were forced to withdraw. Again Lt.-Col. Merritt displayed outstanding courage and although twice wounded, he commanded a vigorous rearguard action that permitted the majority of the units to successfully re-embark. The rearguard itself could not be rescued and Merritt and his men became prisoners of war

Colonel Charles Cecil Ingersol Merritt
Died at the age of 91 on 12 July 2000 and his Grave/memorial is at Ocean View Cemetery, 4000 Imperial Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

Lieutenant Colonel Meritt's Plaque and Bridge
photo by
G. Wilson

Merrit Bridge, Dieppe
photo by
G. Wilson

A swimming pool, soccer field and rows of tennis courts extend along the shoreline directly in front of the Hotel La Presidence where German officers stayed and played. Called the poor man's Monte Carlo because it has only one casino which was captured at great cost by the men of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

Hotel La Presidence
photo by
G. Wilson

photo by
G. Wilson

At the end of the La Rue du Dix-Neuf Aout - 19th of August Street - where Meritt's Bridge is located, there is a small church in front of which a plaque flanked by the flags of France and Canada. Inscribed thereon is the thanks of a grateful people to the Canadians who gave their lives that summer of '42. Every day of the year fresh flowers are placed beside the plaque.

Official monuments are located within site of the Dieppe beach. One honours the men who became prisoners of war following the jubilee of death and destruction. The major memorial remembers "Our Canadian Cousins" who left their blood and birthright as they stormed ashore through the flashing inferno of German defences by dawn's half-light. It salutes as well their brothes who returned victorious in 1944.

Monuments great and small recognize and recall the sacrifice of the brave men of Operation Jubilee, the pathetically inappropriate name for this fiasco, but as stated by the mayor of the port city at its annual commemoration ceremony, peace is the most beautiful homage we can render the dead of Dieppe.

Canadian War Monument
photo by
G. Wilson

Dieppe Se Souvient
Dieppe Remembers

Hommage aux Combatants Allies
De L'Operation Jubilee
Les Ancients Prisonniers de Guerre Se Souviennment

While Canadian military men were involved, it was only peripherally because the big decision-makers were British - Churchill, Montgomery and Mountbatten. Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory told Canadian General Harry Crear, "Your plan may have merit in theory, but it's damned impracticable. The troops will be pinned down on the beaches at the very beginning and never get going again, you mark my words." That is exactly what happened.



Lord Beaverbrook

When the principal military officer of the Dieppe assault was captured, a German officer said to him, "It was too big for a raid and too small for an invasion: what was it?" This imprecision about exactly what it was supposed to accomplish, doomed it to failure before it was launched. Ostensibly it was designed to determine whether a major port could quickly be captured in something close to working order.

Mountbatten requested to be put in charge of carrying it out. Philip Ziegler, biographer of Mountbatten, stated that nothing in Mountbatten's official career earned him as much harsh criticism as this raid. Ziegler admitted he was not the man for the job. "What can hardly be doubted is that things would have gone better if some competent individual had been vested with such powers. The probability of muddle, uneasy compromises and botched execution was latent in the operation from its inception." A biographer of Field Marshal Montgomery, who was initially involved in the planning of the fiasco, but was called away on another assignment, stated more bluntly, that Mountbatten, "was a master of intrique, jealousy, and ineptitude, like a spoilt child he toyed with men's lives with an indifference to casualties that can only be explained by his insatiable, even psychopathic ambition."

First Sea Lord Louis Mountbatten

Initially based on the positive reports he received on the raid, Churchill was quite satisfied, but his opinion changed when grave concerns were expressed to him by the Canadian Lord Beaverbrook, who was appalled at the loss of Canadian lives for what seemed a senseless assault. Churchll minuted, "At first sight, it would appear to a layman very much out of accord with the accepted principles of war to attack the strongly fortified town front without first securing the cliffs on either side." In response to his comment, he was told it had been intended to attack the cliffs thirty minutes before the attack on the town, but because of limited air photographs the German fire positions built into the cliffs had not shown up. The area had not been bombed because of concern for civilian lives. Later in his own history of the war, which was written six years later, Churchill softened his sentiments about the catastrophe and wrote that the grim casualty figures made it a costly but not an unfruitful "reconnaissance in force." He had been asked by Mountbatten to put the best face on it.

Roy Jenkins in his excellent biography, Churchill, said the loss of Canadian life was devastating. He suggested that "the main result - maybe the main purpose - of the action was to take the edge off the mounting obstreperousness among idle Canadian troops in the South of England and to demonstrate how difficult was a landing on a fortified coast." as though that needed to be tested!

The Canadian General Guy Simons later recollected that Crerar said to him, "It would be a tragic humiliation if American troops get into action on this side of the Atlantic before Canadians who have been waiting in England for three years." He felt his views reflected those of the Canadian government. It was no secret that government officials including the Prime Minister Mackenzie King were anxious for our troops, who had been 'training'in England for three or more years, to make a name for Canada. They could only do that by 'getting blooded.'

The numbers killed and wounded in this raid were horrific. Of the 5000 Canadians who faced the fiery fusillade, 1000 were killed and 2000 taken prisoner. In those dramatic and dangerous times, any news from 'over there,' was headline stuff, particularly if it was about Canadians. Up until this catastrophe occurred, little mention was made of our troops and their activities. Now we learned they had taken the starring role in an assault on the beaches of Dieppe and were being hailed for their contribution to the cause. Even though heavy casualty costs were mentioned to the extent permitted by secrecy concerns, official propagandists promised that the price paid was worth it. Lessons learned would be invaluable later. Canada's shock and sadness were mitigated by the pride we felt in the contribution brave Canadian soldiers had made to the Allied cause. Only much later did we learn the terrible truth.


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