Dieppe embraces Canadians at war memorial

Paul McGrath landed at Dieppe with the Royal Marine Commandos–and
went on to Normandy and Algiers. He’s featured in Dieppe Uncovered

DIEPPE, France–O Canada, Dieppe stands on guard for thee.
On the 70th anniversary of the raid on this French coastal town, thousands came to pay homage to the valour of Canadian and other Allied soldiers who fought and died on Aug. 19, 1942 on this beach. Sunday’s celebration at Square du Canada–a park which sits under a spectacular cliff topped by a medieval citadel–was filled with soldiers young and old, dignitaries and visitors from Canada, France, The U.K., America and beyond.

Troops representing all the original regiments marched in Sunday’s parade

Many in the crowd wore Maple Leaf flags as well as the bleu, blanc rouge of France. Marching military bands played the anthems of France, Canada, the United States, The U.K., Australia, Belgium and Poland, representing soldiers who found from those nations. The crowd was mostly French, a fact driven home by the stirring sound of countrymen and women singing along to the “La Marseillaise.” It was moving to look out at the beach during the playing of “O Canada,” almost 70 years to the minute when the bloody raid would have ended. The anthem has become so associated with an Olympic podium or a hockey game that hearing it used to salute a military effort was almost nostalgic.

Two of the Canadians who fought at Dieppe escorted by their accountant

Canadian Governor General David Johnson and Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney marched with the the soldiers and various colour guards as they paraded out of the park and along the boardwalk overlooking the main “White” and “Red” beach areas where so many paid the ultimate price. Along the way, more wreath planting and moments of silence were observed at various war memorial monuments honouring various detachments. Overhead, military aircraft old and new from France, Britain and Belgium did noisy fly pasts.

The cenotaph festooned with wreaths at Square du Canada

Seven surviving Canadian soldiers were honoured at the ceremonies. All in their late-80s to mid-90s, the men are at an age when it is no longer reasonable to expect them to parade in the heat under their own steam. Wheel chairs were at the ready and used by most. A couple, including spry 95-year-old David Hart from Saint-Laurent, P.Q., walked the entire route.
Dieppe Uncovered, a new documentary based on 15 years of investigative research by Montreal professor David O’Keefe, premieres Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on History Television. O’Keefe and filmmaker Wayne Abbott used reinactors, archival footage and many trips to Dieppe and the surrounding beaches to stitch together this look at the real reasons behind the raid. O’Keefe found evidence in “ultra” top secret files, newly declassified, that suggests espionage, not a military strike, was the real reason for the invasion.

The Essex Scottish of Canada Regiment is saluted on the Dieppe boardwalk

No matter what was behind the Dieppe invasion, the French city has embraced the Canadian effort to an extraordinary extent. Flags fill shop windows and public spaces. As a Canadian here it is an almost overwhelming outpouring of affection, deeply moving and impressive. Vive Dieppe!

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