Dieppe Raid 80th Anniversary Ceremony
Rod Green never met his uncle, Horace Finch-Field, but he will always remember him.
Mr. Finch-Field was a Private with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
On August 18, 1942, he was part of an allied invasion force that landed on the beach at Dieppe, France where he was taken prisoner by the Germans only after the allies managed to reach some three miles inland before being pushed back by a German artillery drive.
A poem, Dieppe, contained in the diary Mr. Finch-Field kept during his three years in German captivity was read by Lieutenant-Colonel Jon Baker, Commanding Officer of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, at the 80th Anniversary Ceremony of the Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) on August 18th at Vimy Ridge Memorial Park.
About 100 people were in attendance at the ceremony, including Mr. Green, his wife and daughter.
In 1910, the 79th Highlanders of Canada were organized in Winnipeg, Manitoba, notes the Highlanders website. Ten years later, they were renamed and became known as the Cameron Highlanders of Canada and in 1923 the Royal prefix was entitled, making them the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
The Regiment mobilized the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, C.A.S.F. on 1 September, 1939. They sailed overseas in December of that year and first saw action when they hit the beaches of occupied Europe during the Dieppe Raid on 19 August, 1942.
On that ill-fated day they were to land at Pourville, about four kilometres west of Dieppe to support the South Saskatchewan Regiment. The daunting plan for the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada was that they were to land 30 minutes after the South Saskatchewan Regiment, push beyond the village of Pourville, occupy a German airfield, destroy a German Battery, and finally connect with allied tanks and raid a German Headquarters south of Pourville. These tasks would have been impossible for any troop in the Second World War. In reality, the events did not go as planned and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada were stopped well short of the town and were faced with enemy fire. When the Dieppe Raid came to an end, the Regiment had lost 76 brave soldiers.
In July 1944, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada were stationed in northwestern Europe and remained there until the end of the Second World War when they returned home to Canada.
The Dieppe Raid has generated controversy among military historians over the years.
“Canadian troops were itching for a fight; they got their wish in the most ill-conceived assault of WWII,” Jack Granatstein, one of Canada’s pre-eminent historians, wrote in an article, Dieppe: A Colossal Blunder (Canadian History May 29, 2014).
“The Dieppe raid of August 19, 1942, was a disaster. Within a few hours of landing on the French beach, almost a thousand Canadian soldiers died and twice that many were taken prisoner. Losses of aircraft and naval vessels were very high. It took a long time for the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, which had provided the foot soldiers for the assault, to recover.
“This debacle, spun by those responsible as a glorious failure that paved the way for D-Day two years later, sits like a scar on the Canadian memory of the war, and so it should. Contrary to the public relations experts of 1942, Dieppe was a colossal blunder.”
Military historian Major Jayson Geroux, Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre, Canadian Armed Forces in Kingston, Ontario, points out that the Dieppe Raid was the first time that a raid that size had ever been done.
“They were learning as they went along,” he said during a telephone interview.
“They launched the raid with the best of intentions. But the raid turned out to be a disaster. They learned from it, which is a natural process. Was is a blunder? Yes, of course, it was, you have to put it into context. Failure is always a better teacher than success, and that’s what this turns out to be. It lead to the successful Normandy Landing on June 6, 1944 D Day.”
The Canadian Battlefields Foundation website also takes a balanced approach to Operation Jubilee.
It notes that the men who perished at Dieppe were instrumental in saving countless lives on June 6, 1944.
“While there can be no doubt that valuable lessons were learned, a frightful price was paid in those morning hours of August 19, 1942,” the website says.
“Of the 4,963 Canadians who embarked for the operation, only 2,210 returned to England and many of these were wounded. There were 3,367 casualties, including 1,946 prisoners of war, and 907 Canadians lost their lives.”
“We’re here today to remember the sacrifices made by the veterans at Dieppe,” LCol Baker said to The Voxair following the ceremony.
“These young heroes, who stepped up when duty called to put their lives in line, fought for our freedom.
“It’s important that we never forget the high price that our veterans paid for our peace and prosperity that we enjoy today. As Canadians we have a lot to be thankful for. Tonight’s ceremony was our way of showing our gratitude.”
Mr. Green was visibly moved by the ceremony.
“My mother had five of her brothers go to war,” he said.
“My family fought in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.”
His Uncle Horace died at age 47 before Mr. Green was born.
“He and his wife had no children,” Mr. Green said.
“His four other brothers also returned to Winnipeg after serving in the war in the army and navy for Canada. I knew my other four uncles.”
He held the weathered hard covered wartime log, of his uncle.
“It was issued to him by the Red Cross when he was taken prisoner,” Mr. Green said.
“The Red Cross said use this book to write down your memories to have something for your family so you have something to tell them. He wrote down from when it was first issued to him till he returned home. It has many poem, drawings, and other writings. The Red Cross said write your memoirs in this.
“It’s written in pencil and fountain pen. The colours of the drawings are quite vibrant. My mother had this her whole life until she passed away at age 91 in September 2021.”
Mr. Green said he and his mother sat together on many Remembrance days talking about when her brothers went to war and how she worried about it.
“She had stacks of telegrams sent to her mother that her sons are missing in action,” he commented.
“Her other brothers kept in contact. They’d share as much information as they could.”
Mr. Green said he still regularly reads through his uncle Horace’s prisoner of war diary.
“I always find something new in it,” he observed.
“There were other people who wrote poems in here and Italians poems too. But I can’t translate Italian into English.
“We need to remember what has happened and try not to repeat the past. We have freedom. Sometimes we forget that we have that freedom. And we’re very thankful for that freedom. Let’s not forget and remember that we do have freedom.”
The poem, Dieppe:
“It was the 18th day of August of 1942/We sailed away from England and no man knew where to/We had received no orders, no friends to see us leave/ The Second Canadian Division with the blue patch on their sleeve,
Early the next morning when everything was still/ We saw those tracers bullets coming at us from the hill/But we kept right on sailing and no man will forget/The morning that we landed on the beach there at Dieppe,
The enemy were waiting and had taken up their post/We met a hail of bullets as we landed on the coast/But every man there landed, or at least they tried/Tho many men were wounded and many others died,
It was early in the morning when we started in to fight/The mortar bombs came at us from left and right/They shelled us from the cliffs and bombed us from the air/But the Second Canadian Division was not so easy to scare,
We fought there for eight hours from six am until two/ Our losses were terrific/But, there was nothing else we could do/Though many came to help us, but their boats they could not land/So we had to surrender at Dieppe there on the sand,
What is left of us as prisoners beneath the foreign flag/Here in the heart of Germany in Vlll B Stalag/Many of our comrades fell/But, we never will forget/They gave their lives there fighting in the Battle of Dieppe,
When this war is over and once again we’re free/To our homeland we’ll be sailing to the land of liberty/Tho many have a battle scar, and no man will forget/ the morning that we landed on the French coast at Dieppe.
Spr. Barnes C.W.B. 25330
2nd Field coy R.C.A. Toronto ONT.