Dieppe – 70 years ago

Yesterday marked the seventieth anniversary of the Dieppe raid on France. A cross-channel effort so badly flawed that Allied troops were massacred as they landed. Almost 60% who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. Apparently the Germans were on high alert having been warned by French double agents of British interest in the area. If that wasn’t bad enough, those planning the raid failed to discover the extent of German fortifications and manpower.

A novel I’m writing includes a scene about Dieppe for which I transcribed a live radio broadcast archived by the CBC. On August 20, 1942 Edward and Ann Jamieson and their two children, Emily and Alex, are at home. Edward fought in WWI and is involved in Canada’s espionage training program during WWII – all strictly secret, of course. The previous night they listened to the first reports of Dieppe.

The next evening the whole family gathered to hear Brian Burgess, a war correspondent on one of the tank landing ships, give a first-hand account.

“I am broadcasting now about the Dieppe raid at a time when details are just becoming available. I saw our men die, but never have I seen men die more bravely or fight with such great heart as our Canadian troops. The word Dieppe may rank with Vimy Ridge in our history and our hats are off to …” Edward listened to the list of Canadian units involved, thinking of soldiers he knew.

“… a lot of those men will never return to Canada. I believe more will return after the war if the German announcement of fifteen hundred prisoners is correct.”

Hearing the number of prisoners, both Ann and Emily gasped.

“This was a combined operation, playing an equal part with our troops were the airforce, marines, commandos and the navy … at least nine aircraft fell to Canadian guns and many more were damaged. What a marvellous job they did in the face of intense fire from accurate and powerful German shore and AK AK batteries. Our losses haven’t been sustained without reason. We’ve learned a most valuable lesson … we know now how the German coastal defences operate and how best to attack. We know the tremendous weight of artillery the enemy can bring to bear on the beaches …”

“Sounds like the Army is trying to create something positive out of disaster,” muttered Edward.

“Sshhhhh, Dad,” said Alex, grabbing a chunk of his light brown hair. “Gerry said he thinks his brother was there.”

“We moved large forces across the channel unnoticed by the enemy. We landed men on six beaches; we landed tanks in our new tank carrying vessels. Costly as it has been to Canada, the raid was definitely a success. Without this experience a second front would have been suicide. The plan was a closely guarded secret and the men weren’t briefed until on board the ships. We set sail in crafts of all types and in cover of darkness. The men were quiet as we slid out into the darkness and soon we said goodbye to the shores of Britain. And now I’ll read to you from notes I scribbled while on the water …

“Our bombers are at work … more heavy flash of coastal guns and bombs … our aircraft are flying in close to the water … the ships are weaving in front … heavy thuds are shaking us even this far out … destroyers are slinking along beside us … there are fighter patrols like flocks of geese … fast troop carrying ships are passing us … the coast has suddenly loomed up in front of us with its white hills … the destroyers are laying a smokescreen to windward turning broadside and blasting the town with their guns … a spitfire has just crashed off our starboard bow and into the sea like a stone, we can see the pilot trying to get out but he can’t …”

Emily put her hand across her mouth, eyes wide with horror.

“… two Messerschmitts have tried to attack us … we’re shore bound and in we go … we have to back off … I can see casualties in the water … machine gun bullets are winding around us … the tank landing craft ahead of us got its tanks ashore but she’s sinking now … the German shore batteries are shooting at us, our barrage is unbelievable, shells falling on all sides of us … we can’t get into the beach … three pilots are coming down by parachute … the Germans on the cliffs are throwing hand grenades … and now dive bombers are attacking us … some of our men are wounded … our aircraft are suffering heavily … they’re fighting like fools on shore … it’s been a bitter hard fight.”

When the broadcast ended they sat without moving, overwhelmed by what the reporter described. No one spoke. Edward thought again of Julian and Louise. Still no news.

If you have a chance, listen to the live radio broadcast and just imagine.

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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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3 Responses

  1. I loved your first sentence about the family gathered around the radio. For many people this is something they can’t imagine, but I grew up with that and will always love radio for its in your ear immediacy. Also a lot of my listening was illegal, under the bed covers when I should be sleeping. It (radio) jet starts your imagination in ways TV can never match.

    1. I’m glad I’ve sparked a memory. The novels I write focus on WWI and WWII a time that I think of as distant but tangible. Only two years separate my husband and I – he can remember listening to the radio as a little boy while I can only remember the excitement of my family’s first TV. The notion of family gathered together is important to me.

      1. For me it was late WWII and before television. I remaine convinced my creative imagination was formed by the experience of radio. You had to conjure up the visuals and that is what we writers hope to do in our novels.

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