Canadians remember the Dieppe Raid

Government of Canada ceremony at the Square du Canada in Dieppe, France.

Canadians remember the Dieppe Raid

By Peter Mallett,
The Lookout

The words inscribed at the Square du Canada in Dieppe, France grimly recount the bloodiest day of the Second World War for Canada. 

“The beaches of Dieppe are marked with the blood of Canadians, the road to our final liberation foretelling of their victorious return,” reads the commemorative plaque.

On August  19, an official Government of Canada delegation made up of veterans, young Canadians, and government officials gathered there with the people of France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the raid on Dieppe. 

The sacrifice of the 5,000 Canadian soldiers who landed on the beach that day with impossible odds of success was remembered through speeches, presentations, wreath-laying ceremonies, and a moment of silence. Of those 5,000 soldiers, 3,350 were casualties, 1,950 were captured as Prisoners of War, and 916 were Canadians who died. 

Code-named Operation Jubilee’, the Dieppe Raid was the first significant action seen by Canadian soldiers in Europe during the Second World War.

The Canadian soldiers came ashore from their landing craft, ready to fight their way into Dieppe quickly. They had been told the assault on Germany’s Western Front would be a piece of cake, noted Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Official Languages and Minister Responsible for Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, during her address.

“Of course, it turned out to be anything but,” Taylor said. “They landed under heavy fire, up against a fierce and well dug-in enemy that would not easily give ground, and, in the end, they had no chance.”

Lieutenant (Navy) (Retired) John Nosotti of Vancouver was part of the delegation travelling to France. Nosotti, 78, served 45 years in the Canadian Armed Forces as a reservist. 

His military service began in 1960 and included eight years with his hometown Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment of Windsor, Ont., where he served as a Section Commander, Platoon Sergeant, and Company Quartermaster. That same regiment played a key part in the Dieppe Raids, and only 51 of the 553 members survived it.  

Nosotti says he did not find out he had been selected until a few weeks in advance but was honoured and enlightened by what he learned in Dieppe.

“You get a true sense of the seriousness and business of war when you stare out at the rows upon rows of graves at the war cemetery in Dieppe; the infantry, airmen, and sailors who would never return home,” he said.

Nosotti and members of the delegation got a chance to walk in the same steps as the soldiers from the shoreline of the rocky beach at Dieppe. They quickly understood why it was such a ‘death trap’, he said. 

“Walking up the beach was a real eye-opener for me about what these soldiers faced while being fired at,” said Nosotti. “If you have ever tried to walk up a steep hill that is only loose rocks, you lose your balance and can’t get any traction.”

The delegation to Dieppe also included three Second World War veterans. Among them was 101-year-old Gordon Howard Fennell, who took part in the Dieppe Raid as a member of the 14th Army Tank Regiment of Calgary. 

When speaking with Nosotti and others in the delegation, Fennell described the raid as horrible, and said he avoided being taken prisoner by choosing to be towed back to England in a leaking boat. Fennell’s brother, George, also a ‘Calgary Tanks’ member, lost his life during the raid. 

Fennell helped deliver the Act of Remembrance during the ceremony at the Square du Canada. He stressed the importance of remembering the Dieppe Raid. 

“I would like to thank all of those people [of France] who have been so kind to us visitors and would like to remark on how pleased I am to see all of the groups here today remembering that terrible day,” Fennell said. “It means an awful lot to me, and is important to see this good work being done.”

Also attending the ceremony were General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff; Darrell Samson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs; and Associated Minister of National Defence representatives from France, including Patricia Mirallès, Secretary of State to Veterans and Remembrance.