RETURN TO DIEPPE
In August, 1949, a detachment of 32 Dieppe veteran officers and men, representative of all Dieppe units were assembled in Montreal by the Canadian Government and flown to Dieppe for a Rememberance Parade.
The party included Lt.-Col. G. B. Buchanan, Captian Venn Conn, and Sgt. Cliff Wylie representing the S.Sask.R. They were received in a very cordial and hearty manner. Many French and Canadian government and military dignitaries were present. These included Major-General Canier, Canadian Ambassador to France; Major-General Roberts, Canadian military force commander of the Dieppe raid; Colonel D. Menard, Military Attache to France who was the C.O. of the Fus. M.R. on the raid; the Mayor of Dieppe and several French Generals. A group of 75 Canadian soldiers, now living in England, also came to Dieppe for the occasion.
A most impressive ceremony was the night watch held at the cemetary. French veterans and members of the Canadian detachment stood alternate ten minute watches over the memorial stone which was decorated with many flags. Each watch was started and ended by a bugle call and a roll of drums. There was no sound from the crowds of French people surrounding the memorial. The ceremony, lit by eerie light from the magnesium flares, made a tremendous impression on all present. Every one of the Canadians present were swallowing lumps in their throats and many had unashamed tears running down their cheeks.
The morning of the 19th was a day made perfect for such rememberance services. The sun was brigh and warm and the brisk breeze fromthe sea kept the hundreds of French and Canadian flags flying boldly out from their masts. The cemetery itself had been beautifully kept by the War Graves Commission and the people of the Dieppe area. Row on row of white crosses and grey stones faced across the valley towards Pourville. The entraces of the cemetery are marked by white granite columns and between these gaeways and the grave section is a tall granite cross and the huge white granite altar type memorial stone.
For the ceremony the Canadians formed two files out from the base of the cross and facing each other. Dozens of wreaths and sprays of flowers were placed on the memorial, until they covered the base of the cross and all the green grass between the files of veterans for a distance of 50 feet. The S.Sask.R. wreath was placed by a small French lad dressed in complete cowboy suit which had apparently been presented to him by Premier Douglas of Saskatchewan on behalf of Weyburn friends. Following the Decoration, the parade regrouped around the altar and memorial stone and a high Roman Catholic Mass was said. A choir composed of Girl Guides and Boy Scout troops led in the singing of hymns. During this service, aircraft flew overhead dropping flowers on the graves. One spray of these flowers hit General Vanier on the forehead and fell on to the steps of the Altar. An aide stepped forward to attend the General who waved him back and calmly pushed the disarranged grey hair back with his hand. It seemed a significant incident that the flowers should hit this dinstinguished Canadian soldier (the bearer, himself, of a severe wound received in battle) and should then fall on to the very steps of the altar. When the Catholic mass was finished, a short Protestant service was held and then, as a finale, the parade did a slow march through the lanes of graves.
In the afternoon a huge Military parade was held on the beach promenade. The Canadian detachment acted as guard ofhonour in front of the reviewing stand. After inspection by General Roberts of the masses French troops and a speech by General Vanier, the City of Dieppe, through its mayor, was presented with the Croix de Guerre by a French General. Then the French troops marched pat the Saluting Base where General Roberts and Vanier took the salute. Following this the Canadian detachment marched through the streets and their cheering throngs to the city hall for a reception.
The S.Sask.R. representatives visited Pourville and found many changes from that far off day in 1942. The Germans had torn down most of the houses to open up fields of fire on to the beaches. Merritt Bridge seemed such a short distance to walk over this time. Captain Ven Conn paid a visit to a French lady who owned La Maison Blanche and who had hidden and buried Lieutenant Kempton's body until liberation. Lt.-Col. Buck Buchanan found the little old lady who had given him and Major Jim McRae a cup of coffee that hectic morning.
A large 2nd Canadian Infantry Division and S.Sask.R. plaque has been erected at the road junction in Pourville and in the garned of a nearby house was a collection of S.Sask.R. weapons picked up off the beaches.
In closing this final chapter of the story of Prairie Men, it would be fitting to describe the memorial in the chapel of the hospital where so many of the S.Sask.R. wounded were treated. Three new stained glass windows have been placed along one side of this beautiful place. The first window depicts a young Canadian soldier running towards dozens of French hands reaching out for liberation. The second window showed the cemetery with its row on row of crosses and the grave of an unknown soldier with Our Lord's hands dominating the top of the picture, blessing and protecting the graves of fallen Canadians. The third window pictuers the Canadian Chateau Laurier and the Ottawa Peace Tower above a French girl and a Cnaadian girl based on the Coats of Arms of the two countries.
Perhaps the Canadian detachment returning to celebrate an anniversary of a famous occasion had been very light-hearted and gay about the whole visit, but as we inspected this chapel, we were moved to feel how deeply the Dieppe Raid had affected these French people and to the full meaning of the sacrifices made on that occasion.
It was one of many such shrines in Europe to show that Canadians did not die in vain on foreign soil.