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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Remembering Dieppe ... in newspaper time

Canadian dead litter the Dieppe beach among ruined and abandoned tanks. / Les corps de soldats canadiens sur la plage de Dieppe entouré par des chars d'assaut abandonnés et détruits
Canadian dead at Dieppe (click for source)

August 19, 2012 marked the 70th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid.

At 5:00 a.m. more than five thousand Canadians began arriving on the beaches. By the time they retreated six hours later more than 900 were dead and another 3,000 were wounded or taken prisoner. The botched exercise was nothing short of a slaughter.

While the anniversary of the raid is over, it was 70 years today that the fate of Manitoba soldiers who took part in it began to reach the home front. In a time before satellite feeds and computerized personnel lists it took almost a month before the final casualty list was finalized.

Here's a look back at a few articles from the Winnipeg Tribune that give a sense of what it was like to be in Manitoba after the Dieppe Raid.

The initial news of the raid was almost rosy. On August 20th the Tribune carried a front page wire story that quoted an Associated Press war correspondent declaring "a decisive victory for the Allied forces" and that "By 10 a.m. many of their actions led by tanks seemed to have the town fairly well and to have stabilized the situation on the beaches."

Two days later, the first report of a Manitoba soldier killed in action came. It was Lieut. Alexander John McKellar.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, he left the Winnipeg Police Force to join the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in September 1939, just days before war was declared. He married his girlfriend Belva Drennan in Augustine United Church on December 16, 1939 before being posted overseas. She resided at suite 26 Buckingham Apartments which were at 323 Broadway at Donald.

It was soon apparent that something had gone horribly wrong at Dieppe. Over the weekend the Tribune received the first four official casualty lists from Ottawa and noted that Manitobans, mostly with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, made up the lion's share. For days the Trib scrambled to print the pages of updates. By Monday August 24 they had a list of 115 Manitoba casualties. The following day they added more. On September 2nd the number was nearly 200.

People were encouraged to phone the newspaper about loved ones who died to provide biographical information. The families of Gordon Lodge, James Allan and Richard Carswell were among those to call.

What Were YOU Doing While I Was at Dieppe? Nothing Matters Now But Victory ... Buy the New Victory Bonds!
Propoganda Poster (click for source)

There was no mention of the word "disaster" or "slaughter" in the press. Despite the casualties, morale and recruitment levels needed to remain high. Stories of bravery and troops anxious to get back at the Germans filled the news. One wire report even suggested that the Dieppe Raid showed how vulnerable and poorly equipped the Germans were because they let the troops get to the beaches in the first place.

For some, their news was a relief. Hundreds of soldiers did make it back from Dieppe. This included the father-son team of Pete and Alex Danyluk and the Thorne brothers. Many were injured and in time photos of wounded Manitobans convalescing began to appear.

For some, it was a time of confusion. The family of A.E. Dawson had a gut-wrenching few days when they received telegrams reporting that he was seriously wounded, killed, then alive but missing all in the space of a few days. (I couldn't find a record of Dawson's final fate.)

Canadian prisoners of war being lead through Dieppe by German soldiers / Prisonniers de guerre canadiens
Canadian P.O.W.s (click for source)

For some, peace never came. By mid September the casualty list for the Dieppe Raid was more or less finalized and 217 Manitoba soldiers were still unaccounted for. Many others who were captured as P.O.W.s died off over the duration of the war.

As the casualty numbers were finalized, grief turned to anger at the realization that their loved ones died in what was clearly a botched raid. Still, little mention of this reaction was covered by the Tribune. In an editorial on September 16, 1942 it hinted at these feelings and tried to appease them by writing:

"Now that the total number of killed, wounded and prisoners is known, there is an inclination to reopen discussion as to the value of the raid. It remains true, however, that only two men – General McNaughton and Winston Churchill – are in possession of enough facts to justify judgment as to whether the raid was a success or failure. Both men have declared the raid a magnificent and fruitful exploit.”

The Dieppe Raid Veterans Affairs Canada
The Dieppe Raid Juno Beach Centre
Canadian Casualty List, Dieppe Raid RHLI
Veterans of Dieppe gather for 70th anniversary Globe and Mail
Canadians mark ill-fated Dieppe Raid CBC

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