Jean Gosselin, flanked by Sam Newman and Mary Van Ruyven. PHOTO: SHARON ADAMS, LEGION MAGAZINE
I have been privileged to know two people touched personally by the disastrous raid on Dieppe.
The second, then 86, had just concluded his annual commemoration of the raid when met by members of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Pilgrimage of Remembrance in 2009. He and other young men of the town were ordered to clear the beaches of Canadian dead (Pilgrims in the Shadow of War, Nov. 7, 2009). He said he was pleased to shake the hands and thank living Canadians for the sacrifice. The pilgrims thanked him for his solemn annual ritual, which he vowed to continue until he could no longer walk on the stones of the beach.
The first was Ross Munro, publisher of the Edmonton Journal when I began my journalism career in the early 1970s. He had gone over with the troops to Dieppe, and some of his words, were captured in Legion Magazine’s story Dieppe: “They Didn’t Have to Die!” (July, August, 2012)
“The Germans held a couple of houses and some strong pillboxes near the top of the slope [i.e., cliff] and from their high level they were able to pour fire into some boats, ours among them,” he wrote in a dispatch for The Canadian Press dated Aug. 20. “Several bursts from machine guns struck men in the middle of our craft. The ramp was lowered to permit the men to get ashore, but German fire caught those who tried to make it.” The slaughter was terrific, and only a few of the very brave and very lucky made it off the beach and up the cliff. The survivors on the beach waved the white flag at 8:30 a.m.; those atop the cliff held out until late afternoon.
So I’ll pause this week, especially on Aug. 19th, to remember Dieppe, and two fine gentlemen for whom the events were not first learned from a history book.