On one of our book shelves there is an odd plastic water bottle filled with stones and gravel. As this bottle is from France, you won’t see many of them in Canada. My daughter phoned me as she collected these souvenirs from the beach in that resort town made so famous in Canada by so much death – Dieppe. She had a wonderful time there as people generally do. However, at this location she was there to see the beach and visit her great uncles’ graves. Men she will never meet, who died there many years before she was born.
In approximately 1964, I was sitting in a basement on old kitchen chairs with a sad man who was remembering events he was part of during the war. When I asked about this battle, with some reluctance he replied. In those days the feeling was, brothers could serve in the same unit. He had spent the entire night below decks in a ship trying to ignore the naval gun battle while traversing the English Channel. All the while talking with his brother and trying to build up courage for the coming fight. He was twenty years old at the time and his brother eighteen.
Hours later they climbed down a rope ladder into the landing craft in broad daylight. This battle was to have taken place under the protection of night, but now they were obvious for miles. Sadly the beach was not only defended normally, but a huge group of German Soldiers were on maneuvers in the area. The naval battle had slowed them down and alerted the defenders.
The trip in to the beach was horribly rough with vomiting for some until they could just dry heave, all the while bullets hitting the side of the landing craft and artillery fire falling far too close. As they drew closer to the beach their attention was drawn away to the landing craft next to them when it exploded and killed everyone on board. When he turned back he was face to face with his brother who had just received a round in the neck sufficient to sever his head. At that same second an order was given to jump overboard, which reflexively he did, soaked in his brother’s blood and his own vomit. He was in water so deep his equipment dragged him down. He took as much as he could off and desperately grappled his way to the surface where he was immediately shot.
His memory was not clear after that, but he eventually woke up in a hospital in England. He never fired a shot, lost his brother, was wounded and found a horrible resentment growing in him towards Germans. He recovered from his wounds, and later was in the fighting in France, Belgium, Holland and finally Germany.
He told me, with his face in his hands, he had killed 35 Germans ‘just animals’ he said over and over.
Dieppe Raid statistics.
Code name ‘Jubilee Operation’ August 19-20, 1942.
Total embarked 4,963.
KIA- 807. Wounded- 586,
POW- 1,874. Personally, my uncle was captured at Dieppe and spent three years as a POW.
Dieppe was slaughter and one of the few reasons it wasn’t worse was that the RAF kept the Luftwaffe from strafing the beach. This dogfight was terribly expensive, 62 killed, 30 wounded and 17 captured, not to mention the 100 aircraft lost.
You won’t see too many war memorials with Dieppe written on them, and there was never a medal struck, after all it was a defeat and apparently politicians don’t reward defeats.
Lest we forget seems to have evolved from remembering the fallen of the many wars to some form of John Wayne hero worship which bears no allegiance to reality. We can name a stretch of highway, “Highway of Heroes”, wave flags as the ‘hero’ goes under a bridge (in a hearse) and go home assured we have done the right thing.
I believe completely that these men would never call themselves heroes. Hero lets us off too easy. These men are dead soldiers, dead people, dead, nothing more, nothing less. No more brother, no more father, no more son, no more friend, all hope, all life gone. All the flag waving and military bands in the world will not change that. Laying wreaths and being sad on Remembrance Day is necessary, but vowing it will not happen again, and doing something about it is the only way we won’t repeat our bloody history.
My own Dieppe Memorial sits on our bookshelf in a plastic bottle. And I wonder, how many waves, how many high tides did it take, to wash off the blood?
In God’s word I have learned to find peace within in which to honor these people, without the inherent need to point out our folly.
The fact is, I was wrong, the waves never make the stones clean. The stone and gravel may appear clean, but history will never allow them to be.
Each soldier, regardless of side of insight into the war, had God to turn to, and in the cacophony of war, I’m sure that some did. As we honor these people I must truly know; Psalm 46: 9-10… He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
Perhaps as I ‘remember them’ I can feel a little closer to ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Ted Thompson