THE DIEPPE VETERANS' MEMORIAL PARK
On 19 August 1942 the raid on the French Port of Dieppe took place. The raid was a tactical disaster and the loss of 913 Canadian lives was great, but the lessons learned from it added considerably to the success of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France on 6 June 1944.
The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry landed 582 soldiers that morning. Only 211 returned to England that afternoon, 109 of them wounded. 197 had been killed and 174 had become prisoners-of-war, including 85 wounded. Of the 582 RHLI troops who took part in the Raid, only 102 or 18% were not killed, captured or wounded.
The Dieppe survivors have suffered great physical trauma and psychological distress as a result of the nightmarish battle and the loss of so many of their friends and comrades in only about eight hours. The survivors have long felt that their efforts at Dieppe had not been fully recognized and appreciated by Canadians, and in the case of The RHLI Dieppe veterans, by the City of Hamilton. Almost alone among the communities of Dieppe regiments, 60 years after the raid there was still no municipal monument to the raid in Hamilton.
That was rectified the afternoon of 19 August 2003, 61 years to the day after the raid. The City of Hamilton Dieppe Memorial Park was dedicated in front of a gathering of more than 1,000 members of the public and 250 invited guests and VIPs including the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario and 18 of the 24 known surviving members of the RHLI who fought at Dieppe.
The $425,000 park - with the great majority of the funds from the City of Hamilton - was designed by landscape architect Arnis Budrevics. The site features a large central ceremonial stone-paved plaza ringed by a representation of the infamous Dieppe seawall on the lake side, and a memorial wall lined with plaques inland. An exact replica of the RHLI cairn on the beach in Dieppe stands in front of the memorial wall. The whole is set off by the backdrop of the Burlington Bay Skyway representing the cliffs of Dieppe. The formal entrance to the site faces Lake Ontario. This allows visitors to approach the site from the water as the soldiers did in 1942. The entrance walkway is bordered with stones replicating the "shingle" pebbles of the Dieppe beach.
Contributions were also made by the federal and provincial governments, and the Waterfront Regeneration Trust.
Ontario Lieutenant-Governor James Bartleman spoke about the survivors of the raid. "Although they put behind them the horror of that day, in order to build a future for their children and their country, they have made sure that the sacrifices of their companions in arms are not forgotten. We will remember them."
Hamilton Mayor Bob Wade praised Hamilton city councillors for making the commitment to fund the park. He noted the terrible casualties suffered by Hamilton's regiment on the raid. "The park ... is dedicated by the grateful citizens of the City of Hamilton to the brave and the gallant men who served Canada, Ontario, Hamilton and their Regiment so well on that fateful day in 1942. This park has been created as a place of honour, recognition and symbolism. This park will stand tall and proud as our Forces did on that day. You don't have to be reminded but their actions on our behalf are the reasons that we're able to stand here today in a peaceful country whose reputation as a peacemaker is acknowledged worldwide."
Keynote speaker was retired CWO Jack McFarland, wounded Dieppe veteran, POW and Park Committee chair. He noted that "... a year ago I told the press that I did not expect to live to see this day - and here I am standing in the middle of this wonderful monument. I have only one word for it, it's magnificent." He thanked Council for staying the course with the funding.
CWO McFarland recalled the raid. "The Canadian Army didn't have summer dress in the northern hemisphere so we were in (heavy woolen) battledress. On top of that we wore hobnailed boots and we were carrying a weapon of some sort, either a Bren gun, a rifle, pulling a four-inch mortar, carrying bombs, carrying ammunition and we landed on those stones. When - if - you made your way to that wall, you were lucky. We lost a lot of men right there. At the wall, it was high and it was hot. We were shot at from both sides (from the cliffs). I like to consider this as Canada's Charge of the Light Brigade. The number of people we sent in there and the number of people we lost warrants that description, I believe."
Marc Sedille, France's Deputy-Consul in Toronto, expressed the gratitude of the Government of France and of the French people for the great sacrifices and the lives lost by Canadians both in the raid and the later liberation of France in 1944. "We all remember they made history at Vimy during the First World War. And, during the Second World War, once again they gave proof of their bravery, of their abilities.". Mr. Sedille recalled the terrible casualties of the Canadians, and concluded, "Today, I think of their families, their mothers, wives and children who lost a son, a husband, a father. I think of their friends who survived, I think of Canada when I say, Thank You Canada, we will never forget."
As Mayor Wade and CWO McFarland reminded the hundreds of guests, the memorial park is also an educational and teaching site for current and future generations of Hamiltonians and Canadians. The number of visitors since the dedication of the site has been impressive, and there is no doubt that this Memorial Park will become a major stop for visitors to Hamilton.
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