SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 17 July 2010
17 July 2010, Saturday: We learned about the Dieppe Raid today. Lee gathered us at points on the beach and harbor wall in the morning and began an orientation. The raid occurred 19 August 1942 at four beaches, each designated by a colour: Blue, Red, White, and Green. The operation was intended to test German coastal defenses and to divert German attention from the eastern front, where the Russians were under immense pressure. It was never meant to be a full-scale invasion. The plan was to destroy the batteries at Berneval to the left and Verengerville to the right of Dieppe, neutralize the machine gun nests at Puys and Pourville, and land infantry men and tanks on the beaches of Dieppe itself. A chance meeting with a German convoy delayed the raid at Blue Beach on the eastern flank and alerted the coastal defenses, which had already been reinforced by the Germans in anticipation of an invasion at this point. On the western flank (Green Beach) at Pourville, winds swept most of the landing craft to the wrong side of the Scie River, which jeopardized the mission there. As a result, many lives were lost, and the entire venture has been described as a colossal failure. However, it all depends on one’s perspective.
The raid scared the Germans badly. We know that because the British had broken the German code and could listen in to find out their reaction. The German command was so rattled, that it moved troops from the eastern front to reinforce the channel coast. This immediately alleviated some of the pressure on the Russians, who were able to withstand and eventually defeat the German invaders. This isn’t easy to see, if you are focused on the Dieppe Raid itself.
Also, the battlefield has its own challenges that an arm-chair historian may not appreciate. To understand more fully what our soldiers had to face, Lee made us run as fast as we could up the pebble beach to the protective sea wall, a feat made difficult by the lack of traction on the large chert pebbles. Once we were panting at the sea wall, he asked us to imagine racing up that beach carrying a 90-pound pack on our back and a rifle in our hands while under enemy fire from the buildings above the sea wall. For the men bringing up the huge planks that the tanks required to avoid getting mired down in the chert, it must have required enormous strength and dexterity. Under those conditions, where snap decisions had to be made on the fly in ever-changing circumstances, it is a marvel that any of them were able to land, test their equipment, do a little damage, and survive to tell the tale.
After our run up the beach, we moved to the Essex Scottish Memorial, where a few people joined us to hear Lee’s remarks. Among them was an elderly man who told Lee in French that he witnessed the Dieppe Raid as a boy and that he went every year to pay tribute to the dead at the military cemetery. It was a touching moment.
We also stopped at the monument honouring the Fusiliers Mont-Royal Regiment for its sacrifice on these beaches. After Lee had spoken about this regiment’s involvement, we had free time to get lunch or visit the shops. Diane Rabel and I ended up walking to the Dieppe-Canadian Memorial, which is up against a cliff at the far end of the beach on the right. Perched high above it is a castle, part of which dates back eight hundred years. Had there been time, I would have explored it, but we had to go back to the hotel to meet the others for the next leg of the trip. On the way, Diane took pictures of flowers at every opportunity, particularly the hydrangeas, which were in full bloom everywhere we went.
When everyone had assembled, we loaded the vans and set out. We stopped briefly at the top of the cliff near the castle, where a German gun emplacement still looks out over the beaches below. It was easy to see how it could have rained down fire on our troops as they came ashore. From here, we drove to the Dieppe Canadian Military Cemetery where Laura gave her presentation on Pte. Morley, a soldier killed at Dieppe. It is a peaceful setting, with grain fields and bluffs of trees all round, a marked contrast to the steep cliffs, chert beaches, and English channel that were just minutes away. This is the only Canadian military cemetery where graves are organised in the German fashion, with the headstones back to back. It struck me as ironic how enemies could be killing each other one moment and carefully burying the dead the next.
Our brief stay at Dieppe was over, and we now set out for Normandy. It was a three-hour trip in bright sunshine along a modern toll highway that threaded its way through rolling countryside dotted with farm fields and ancient villages. The contrast between the old and the new is apparent everywhere, and especially so at Caen as we crossed the Normandy Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world. Below it is the Seine River, which is thousands of years old, and on the horizon were the outlines of the ancient churches of Caen. It is a place rich in history.
We finally arrived at Bayeux, where we shopped for groceries at LeClair’s, a modern supermarket that would rival the very best in North America and indeed is vastly superior to any of them in the varieties of cheese, bread, and other dairy products it has on sale. The prices were also comparable or cheaper than here in Canada. I could live here quite contentedly.
After shopping, we drove to the Moulin Rouge, which is a 17th century mill located at Vaucelles, an ancient village on the edge of Bayeux. It consists of two stone buildings, each of which has been converted into spacious apartments for holiday folk. Our group was in the building on the left. Dan, Peter, Tyler, Trevor, and I shared a ground-four suite that had three bedrooms, a bathroom, a huge common room and a modern kitchen. Laura and Leanna were in an apartment above us. Lee, Cindy, Blake and Benjamin were in the two story apartment in the centre of the building, and the rest of the women were in the huge two story apartment at the far end. We gathered there for supper, which the owners had provided us; then, we stayed for the evening discussion, which was chaired by Laura. It was the usual engaging interchange of ideas, and like most of our discussions, would have continued indefinitely, had our leaders not brought it to a halt. As I walked back to our apartment, I could hear the water trickling over the rocks in the brook near our door. It was a comforting sound, and I felt completely at peace with the world.