DIEPPE, France–Went to the beach today and met seven heroes: Russ Burrows, Fred Englebrecht, Ray Gilbert, David Hart, Arthur Rossell, Donatian Vaillantcourt and Roman Wozniak.
These seven surviving members of the Canadian armed forces who fought the Battle of Dieppe were brought back to France this weekend as guests of the Canadian government. Minister of Veteran Affairs Stephen Blaney (front right, kneeling) described them correctly Friday as men of incredible courage. The guy in the black shirt, above, is David O’Keefe, a military historian from Quebec who spend countless hours reading thousands of pages of recently declassified “ultra” top secret documents before piecing together the true purpose of the Dieppe raid. It’s all in the documentary Dieppe Uncovered airing Sunday night at 9 p.m. on History. Sunday is the 70th anniversary of the battle.
Hart (front row, right), from Saint Laurent, Quebec, was a Sargent with the Royal Canadian Corps Second Divisional Signals when he was dodging bullets and shrapnel at Dieppe. He’s sticking to his view that the raid was one big screw up. “The retaining wall, we were told, was four feet tall. It was seven,” says the fit and with-it 95-year-old.
He survived basically because the large, bulky radio he was lugging around never really got off the landing boat. The batteries alone weighed 75 pounds. Hart kept his radio line open and successfully messaged his 4th brigade to retreat. With other lines down, and the boat battered and rudderless in the waves, Hart asked permission to leave his post in an attempt to deliver the signal to 6th division. He got two minutes and in that time managed to get the vital call out to the other troops. The gutsy and unselfish move under fire probably saved hundreds of lives. It earned him the Military Medal for Bravery and a hand shake from King George VI at Buckingham Palace.
Hart went on to a career as an accountant but stayed in the reserve. Stayed, in an honorary capacity, until last year. At 94, as an honorary lieutenant colonel, he was the oldest and longest-serving officer in the Canadian army!
Gilbert (next to Hart, back row left in cap) was with the 14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment. He was in one of the new Churchill tanks that were useless on the round rocks of Dieppe. The rocks got caught up in the works and broke apart the tracks, immobilizing many of the tanks. The Calgary-native says he emptied all his ammo into the beach casino house that was full of German snipers. Eventually he was captured and taken prisoner, spending 13 horrible months in shackles.
Still the tank, he feels, saved his life. “It’s why he’s here today,” says Dorothy, his wife of 64 years.
Both Hart and Gilbert have returned to Dieppe at least five times in the past, celebrating various anniversaries with other survivors. What’s Gilbert do for fun? Barbershop performance singing. Hey, he’s earned the right.
The two men remember one other thing about that day–it was warm and sunny, just as it was for Friday’s photo op.


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