DIEPPE REVISITED - 60 YEARS ON
For almost two weeks in August, 2002, a large contingent of RHLI and RHLI supporters were in Europe for a very special occasion - the 60th anniversary of the Raid on Dieppe. The main events were held on August 19th, but a lot more was packed into the official itinerary in addition to some leisure time for sightseeing before and after.
Revisiting Dieppe - A Visit in Pictures
The first official function was "The Beating of Retreat" at the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, a unique home and hospital for indigent members of the British Armed Forces. The 350 residents were treated to a first-class concert by our Band and in return provided a dinner and some first-class hospitality in their lovely Mess (in a hospital!).
Then it was over to Dieppe, where the first function was a sunset ceremony at the Canadian War Cemetery in the town. The route in was lined with flaring torches and at the cemetery itself, large lights cast an eerie glow over the tombstones and the huge cross that marks all Canadian war cemeteries.
Joining us were Hamilton Spectator reporter James Elliott and photographer Barry Gray, who were there to do a job but who in a very short time became "adopted" Rileys. Their tremendous work, printed in the Spectator back home while we were still in France, certainly captured the emotions of those few days.
In addition to the incredible parade described in a separate story, August 19th was an amazing day. It started with the official ceremony again at the Cemetery of Virtue, with many speeches and wreath-layings. It was back on the bus after, and down to the Canadian Monument below the cliffs in the old town for another memorial event, followed by the parade.
Then, with three major events already concluded, the RHLI band, the official guard - which included Riley Cpl John Clemens, MCpl Steve Holdom and Cpl Warren Pyper along with Bandsman Matt Minnich - the official contingent trumpeter using an RHLI Silver Bugle --had yet more to do.
After lunch, they were bused to the tiny town of Puys, east of Dieppe, to mark the sacrifice of the units that came ashore there. This turned into an endurance contest, with a temperature of 100 degrees and 100 % humidity. The beach is in a natural "bowl", which reflected the intense sunlight back onto the participants. Only water provided at the last minute prevented disaster, especially with the vets. It was only supposed to be a simple wreath-laying but for some reason turned into a massive event with speeches and wreaths too numerous to mention - even by the High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight!
Returning to Dieppe in a thankfully air-conditioned bus, the RHLI contingent and the Guard again formed up. The Fusiliers Mont-Royal had requested our band for their ceremony at the FMR Memorial, along the esplanade and down about a half-kilometre from the RHLI cairn.
Finally, that last half-kilometre was covered in fine style, our band and contingent leading the way to the RHLI memorial. Accompanying us was the official guard for one last time, along with two members of the RCMP in full Scarlet uniform, lending a very poignant touch to the scene. To hear the Last Post played in the very location where so many Rileys paid the ultimate sacrifice is to have an image indelibly seared on one's soul.
The next day, the 20th, most of the contingent moved on to Caen, except for the band. They detoured to Pourville, about a kilometre west of Dieppe, where the South Saskatchewan Regiment was slaughtered and their CO, LCol Cecil Merritt won the second Victoria Cross of the raid.
In a tremendous downpour, the band and the guard paraded one more time, surrounded by what seemed the entire population of the village, at the SSR Memorial and then down to the bridge over the River Scie where many of the SSRs fell and where LCOl Merritt won his VC.
Caen and vicinity were to provide more emotional moments. The RHLI fought the Battle of Verrieries Ridge just south of the city, and the battlefield is still there, unaltered by development. It cost the Rileys their second-highest casualty count of the war after Dieppe. From Troteval Farm to the town is less than two kilometres of mostly open field - a true killing ground.
The town's mayor presented the Regiment with a special medal of commemoration after a short service at the RHLI plaque installed in 2000. This was after a short service at Hill 67, between Caen and Verrieries, where several wartime Rileys were presented with French Government Veterans' medals. From Hill 67, one can look out over a vast area of Normandie - within easy visual range are Verrieres, Caen, Falaise and so many more names sacred to the RHLI and the Canadian Army. One cannot appreciate the small scope of so important a battlefield without visiting it first-hand.
Visits to Juno Beach, Courselles (location of the Canadian Cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize, where so many Rileys lay at peace) and Pegasus Bridge, where Canadian paratroopers landed and fought the night of 5/6 June 1944, rounded out the trip. It was truly an event of a lifetime for the participants, even those who had been over before.
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