SCOTTISH AT DIEPPE
Blazing Bloody Battle Of France Is Described
Sees Canadian Army Fight Hun
--Front page headline and subheads
Windsor Daily Star, Aug. 20, 1942


"No Essex officer returned. ... Out of 30 officers who lived together at Aldershot and previously, I am the only original. Others had been transferred or were shot down in France.... Lads say they are glad I didn't go. I couldn't have done much good...."

-- Aug. 21, 1942, excerpt from the war diary
of Rev. Maj. Mike Dalton, OBE,
Roman Catholic padre to the Essex Scottish Regiment


DIEPPE, France -- This beach, so alive during the day with carnival rides, confectionary booths and sunbathers, is haunted in the early dawn....

--  Lead from front page story
The Windsor Star, Aug. 19, 1992



     I could feel the ghosts of history reaching out to touch me on the shoulder, to remind me that once, here, on this spot, men fought and died, including more than 100 in my semi-adopted regiment, the Essex Scottish.

     I was walking the beach at 5:45 a.m., Aug. 19, where the men came ashore exactly 50 years before under withering enfilading fire from the bluffs at either side of the beaches. They were late and arrived in full view of the waiting Germans, who were merciless.

     Slipping around on the egg-shaped stones that tripped the men up and threw the treads off the Churchill tanks that tried to provide close support, I understood for certain that I was right all those months ago to push for the special section and to accept the Veterans Affairs department invitation to go on this pilgrimage....

* * *


     "Red," I said, "you know ... they aren't planning anything at all to mark the 50th anniversary of Dieppe. It fractured this city, just tore it up. I mean, only 50 or so of the 553 men came back from the raid, and half them were wounded. The rest were dead, like my cousin, or captured."

     I ranted on, as I am wont to do, cursing the malignant newsroom gods who would ignore such a shattering event, until she stopped me cold.

     "Write a memo," she said. "Tell them what you're telling me. Maybe you can persuade them."

     Huh. Right as usual. Want something done? GOYA and do it.

     So I wrote a memo to the bosses suggesting a special section. They jumped at it and gave me a team of three -- two of them, like me, the offspring of Second War veterans and the third the nephew of one -- to work parttime on the project.

     We interviewed survivors, we interviewed relatives. We called overseas to England and France. We called all over North America, from Cape May to Ottawa to California. We got pictures, we got stories, we got obsessed.

     We pieced together a timeline of the day that was so detailed and so accurate it was cited later in the official history of the Essex Scottish. We compiled the first ever complete Dieppe casualty list, taken directly from the regimental war diaries.

     Halfway through the process, a call came from Veterans Affairs asking us if we'd like to send someone along with the 50 veterans they were taking back to Dieppe in August.

     I thought about it for awhile, but in the end said yes, I'd go. Then "Hell yes".

* * *


     So that was what brought me here to this killing ground where the Second Canadian Infantry Division was so badly mauled it took two years to rebuild it. The impact on the cities where the regiments were raised made the army change the rules, so that never again would so many from a single area be so exposed.

     The statistics were and are terrible. About 900 Canadians were killed on the beach or in the water, nearly 2,000 were taken prisoner. Many of those who made it back to England were wounded. More died there and in captivity. All of it happened in the space of a few hours on that hot morning, Aug. 19, 1942.

     Why was the raid -- a frontal attack on a fortified coastal city -- ever planned? Why was it cancelled once -- when the men were all ready to embark -- and remounted a month later, when security could have been compromised?

     Most of all, was anything learned? Did it do any good?

     Maybe the best answer to that came from an interview I did later that morning on the beach.

     One of the aging men was a card-carrying member of the Resistance who was 17 when the raid on his hometown took place. He firmly believed it played a vital role, including helping convince Stalin that a second front in Europe was not possible that early in the war.

     The other was a member of the Association des anciens combattants et prisonniers de guerre de Dieppe, who pointedly noted that nearly 3,000 dead or captured Canadians weren't much help.

     "Ah," said the other gently, "but if you hadn't come at all, we'd still be under German rule."

German Propaganda photos showing the aftermath

Red Beach, where the Essex Scottish landed

Field of fire: Artillery and heavy machine-guns sited on the cliffs took a massive toll

Views: 66

Comment by koshersalaami on August 19, 2017 at 9:24am

Thank you

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on August 19, 2017 at 11:21am

yes  thank you

Comment by Boanerges on August 19, 2017 at 1:52pm

Thanks, guys. It might be of interest to US readers that 50 Rangers took part in the assault, of whom six were killed. My scrutiny of a full-sized propaganda photo at top leads me to believe that the body in the middle centre is one of those six. The gaiters (which are barely discernible in this small photo) are something of a give-away.

Comment by nanatehay on August 19, 2017 at 4:05pm

Excellent coverage, then and now, of a topic few people know much about. I have long wondered, did Canadian general staffers feel honored to offer the 2nd Division as the spearpoint of the Dieppe operation, or was the unit chosen sort of at random by Brits in the Allied High Command? I ask out of North American solidarity with my Canadian brothers because, you know, perfidious Albion and all that...

Comment by Steel Breeze on August 20, 2017 at 5:07am

R&L....i have a wealthy friend who is a war history buff and travels to famous battle sites all over the world.....he said that at some,like Normandy,etc,you dont have 'see' anything....just standing there you can feel it......i believe him...

Comment by Steel Breeze on August 20, 2017 at 5:43am

on a personal level,i have a persistent 'vision' that almost kept me from ballgames.....you come up the stairs onto the concourse and see 55,000 cheering,laughing,happy fans.....then the noise stops and the people slowly fade away until your alone in the silence....crazy,i know,but can never shake it off.....once when my daughter was with she sais 'whats wrong dad?'.....i said "nothing.....everything...."

Comment by koshersalaami on August 20, 2017 at 5:46am

What do you think about in the silence?

Comment by Steel Breeze on August 20, 2017 at 5:49am

wasted lives

Comment by Boanerges on August 20, 2017 at 7:17am

Nana, the First and Second Canadian divisions were essentially England's garrison for a long time as the British Army struggled to rebuild and rearm after Dunkirk. The Second indeed was volunteered for the raid by us, in part because the men were going batshit crazy with nothing to do. But speaking of "perfidious Albion" (thanks, Walsingham, for leading the way), there is one school of thought that the whole thing was meant to fail to convince the Russians no invasion could take place at that point in the war. The planning was incompetent -- under Mountbatten, how could it not be? -- and German E-boats accidentally intercepted the convoy on the way over, eliminating the surprise element. Furthermore, the raid was supposed to take place a month earlier and was called off because of weather. Security was non-existent in the interim. Whether it was a series of blunders or deliberate, it was the worst day of the Second War for the Canadian Corps, and that includes the Sicily and Normandy landings.

Steel, yes. That's the feeling I had when I arrived by ferry at Dieppe. I looked up from the same vantage point the men did that morning, and shivered at what I saw. I can't imagine what those poor SOBs made of it. And it's not crazy, not at all. The walk on that empty beach, and remembering what happened 50 years earlier, will haunt me for the rest of my life. (My regards to your friend, by the way.)

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