Solemn reflection as Canada marks 70th anniversary of Dieppe raid
Published Sunday, August 19, 2012 9:25AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, August 19, 2012 5:40PM EDT
On the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe, Canada’s veterans are remembering those who lost their lives during the pivotal but disastrous Second World War operation.
More than 900 Canadian soldiers died during the failed attempt to wrest the French town from occupying German forces on August 19, 1942.
Seven veterans returned to the beaches of Dieppe on Sunday to honour their comrades.
Town residents applauded the Canadian veterans as they walked along the boardwalk, near the beaches where they landed 70 years ago, CTV News correspondent Ben O’Hara-Byrne said in an interview from the French coast.
“You just got the impression that it was one of those moments where it became very clear…that everything that happened, as horrific as it was, was deeply appreciated,” he told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
The veterans attended memorials in Dieppe alongside Governor General David Johnston.
“It’s remarkable to see them there, present, remembering their comrades, ensuring that this is a chapter of our history we’ll never forget,” Johnston told News Channel on Sunday.
The Governor General also attended a wreath laying ceremony at the Canadian Cemetery Les Vertus to honour the fallen soldiers and 3,000 others who were wounded or captured that day.
He was accompanied by several other dignitaries including Veterans Affairs minister Steven Blaney and Canada’s ambassador to France Lawrence Cannon.
In a speech delivered later on at the Square du Canada, Johnston discussed how the Battle of Dieppe helped forge a unique connection between Canada and France.
“The Allied soldiers who fought here did so valiantly and with common cause,” Johnston told the audience. “That cause was freedom from tyranny.”
He ended his speech by encouraging young Canadians to listen to the stories of war veterans, and continue nurturing the nation’s unique relationship with France.
Square du Canada is a small park in Dieppe, with a plaque commemorating the raid.
Part of its inscription reads: “…our Canadian cousins / marked with their blood / the road to our final liberation / foretelling thus their victorious return.”
Johnston unveiled another commemorative plaque at the park Sunday and laid a wreath, a gesture he said was made on behalf of all Canadians.
Some who made the journey to Dieppe this weekend did so in memory of veterans who have passed away.
“It’s overwhelming to see the generosity of the French people, but it’s a very emotional time for me as well,” said Karen Gilman, the niece of a Dieppe veteran.
Visiting Dieppe this weekend was Canadian veteran Arthur Rossell, now 92.
The Brampton, Ont. resident told CTV News he spent 18 days in a coma following the Dieppe raid.
“The Germans could see us perfectly, just like sitting ducks in a pond,” said Rossell. “So many of the boys dropped dead.”
Roman Wozniak was one of the sliders who flew a Spitfire over the beaches of Dieppe that day.
"We had no problem in the air," said the 93-year-old Vancouver man. "We did get six that day and we lost three."
But Wozniak had felt that the deadly battle was largely forgotten.
"It was a disaster," he said. "It was sort of swept under the rug and very little was said about it."
Fred Engelbrecht, 92, of Hamilton, Ont. served in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.
He survived the raid but became a prisoner of war. He spent four months tied up with ropes and shackled in chains for a further 12 months during his time as a POW. He was liberated in 1945.
"We were the best troops of England of that time and I know that," said Engelbrecht of the Canadian soldiers.
Under grey, foggy skies, local residents, along with the French military and other government officials, honoured the few returning veterans. Canadian flags could be seen flying in windows and outside buildings as people stopped to applaud and shake hands.
Many of the veterans had tears in their eyes as they paraded alongside the French northern coast they stormed 70 years ago.
“It’s fantastic,” said Dieppe veteran David Hart of the audience. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
"It goes to your heart," added Blaney. "I'm speechless ... and overwhelmed by the emotion we can feel here in Dieppe today."
On Saturday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement thanking veterans for their service and referring to the raid as a “pivotal moment” in the Second World War.
“As we mark this anniversary, we say thanks to the thousands of selfless Canadians who fought for our country on this solemn occasion,” Harper said.
Back in Canada, a wreath laying ceremony took place at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
There has been considerable debate over the years about the justification for the raid.
Some Allied military leaders said the lessons learned from the disaster saved countless lives during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
Intelligence leaders and some historians also contend that vital data concerning German radar and codes was obtained during the raid.
With files from The Canadian Press