Thursday, August 19, 2004

Extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy - Part III

Babble on.

On August 19, 1942, 6,100 men landed on the beaches of Dieppe, France for a raid against German positions. 5,000 of these troops were Canadians, the remainder being British Commandos and 50 American Rangers. The raid was supported by eight Allied destroyers and 74 Allied air squadrons (eight belonging to the RCAF).

The raid was not an unqualified success.

Conflicting assessments of the value of the raid continue to be presented. Some claim that it was a useless slaughter; others maintain that it was necessary to the successful invasion of the continent two years later on D-Day. The Dieppe Raid was closely studied by those responsible for planning future operations against the enemy-held coast of France. Out of it came improvements in technique, fire support and tactics which reduced D-Day casualties to an unexpected minimum. The men who perished at Dieppe were instrumental in saving countless lives on the 6th of June, 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. 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; 907 Canadians lost their lives.



Two Canadians involved in the Dieppe raid were awarded the Victoria Cross. I must say the story of Rev. Foote's extraordinary courage is one of the most compelling I've ever read or heard.

Lt. Col. Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt (The South Saskatchewan Regiment)
'For matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership whilst commanding his battalion during the Dieppe raid on the 19th August, 1942. From the point of landing, his unit's advance had to be made across a bridge in Pourville which was swept by very heavy machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire: the first parties were mostly destroyed and the bridge thickly covered by their bodies. A daring lead was required; waving his helmet, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt rushed forward shouting, "Come on over! There's nothing to worry about here." He thus personally led the survivors of at least four parties in turn across the bridge. Quickly organizing these, he led them forward and when held up by enemy pillboxes he again headed rushes which succeeded in clearing them. In one case he himself destroyed the occupants of the post by throwing grenades into it. After several of his runners became casualties, he himself kept contact with his different positions. Although twice wounded Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt continued to direct the unit's operations with great vigour and determination and while organizing the withdrawal he stalked a sniper with a Bren gun and silenced him. He then coolly gave orders for the departure and announced his intention to hold off and "get even with" the enemy. When last seen he was collecting Bren and Tommy guns and preparing a defensive position which successfully covered the withdrawal from the beach. Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt is now reported to be a Prisoner of War. To this Commanding Officer's personal daring, the success of his unit's operations and the safe re-embarkation of a large portion of it were chiefly due.'

Honourary Captain Rev. John Weir Foote (Canadian Chaplain Services, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry)
'At Dieppe on 19th August 1942, Honourary Captain Foote, Canadian Chaplain Services, was Regimental Chaplain with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. Upon landing on the beach under heavy fire he attached himself to the Regimental Aid Post which had been set up in a slight depression on the beach, but which was only sufficient to give cover to men lying down. During the subsequent period of approximately eight hours, while the action continued, this officer not only assisted the Regimental Medical Officer in ministering to the wounded in the Regimental Aid Post, but time and again left this shelter to inject morphine, give first-aid and carry wounded personnel from the open beach to the Regimental Aid Post. On these occasions, with utter disregard for his personal safety, Honourary Captain Foote exposed himself to an inferno of fire and saved many lives by his gallant efforts. During the action, as the tide went out, the Regimental Aid Post was moved to the shelter of a stranded landing craft. Honourary Captain Foote continued tirelessly and courageously to carry wounded men from the exposed beach to the cover of the landing craft. He also removed wounded from inside the landing craft when ammunition had been set on fire by enemy shells. When landing craft appeared he carried wounded from the Regimental Aid Post to the landing craft through heavy fire. On several occasions this officer had the opportunity to embark but returned to the beach as his chief concern was the care and evacuation of the wounded. He refused a final opportunity to leave the shore, choosing to suffer the fate of the men he had ministered to for over three years. Honourary Captain Foote personally saved many lives by his efforts and his example inspired all around him. Those who observed him state that the calmness of this heroic officer as he walked about, collecting the wounded on the fire-swept beach will never be forgotten.'

November 11th shouldn't be the only day we remember.

Babble off.

1 Comments:

At 6:36 PM, Blogger pogge said...

It occurs to me that you might not get a lot of comments on these because there's not a lot of controversy here -- nothing to really debate. So I thought I'd drop a note to say I'm reading and I agree we shouldn't forget.

Incidentally, I answered your email but my reply bounced back.

 

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