It will be 75 years ago Saturday, along a rocky shoreline on the northwest coast of France, that the Canadian military suffered its bloodiest loss of the Second World War.
The ill-fated, pre-dawn raid near the resort town of Dieppe would eventually claim the lives of 916 of the nearly 5,000 participating Canadian troops.
|Archie Sudbury (left) in uniform and a friend just after he joined the armed forces in 1937.
Located at a break in the heavily defended cliffs, the region had been chosen in part because of it being within range of British fighter planes, which were to support the amphibious attack.
The Allies too suffered badly, losing 119 aircraft, their worst single-day plane losses of the war.
Code named “Operation Jubilee” more than 6,000 troops in total came ashore at five points along a 16-kilometre stretch of fortified coastline.
Things immediately went bad for the men as the German resistance intensified and the harsh terrain only added to the problem.
Many men were taken off the beaches under heavy fire. However, by the afternoon, the remaining Canadians were forced to surrender.
The Dieppe Raid was over.
Nearly 2,000 Canadians were taken prisoner and forced to spend two-plus years in the harsh German prisoner of war camps.
Marking the anniversary again this year in France is Penticton’s Bob Sudbury. His father Archie, although he did not take part in the raid, was a member of the 16th Battery 3rd LAA (Light Anti-Aircraft) Regiment that did.
Sudbury remembers sitting by himself in the Puys war cemetery on his Nov. 11, 2003 visit to France.
“The French did it (observed Remembrance Day) on the 10th but I didn’t know that so I took a city bus on Nov. 11 and it was foggy when I got there with my wreath,” recalled Sudbury. “I was all alone and then at 11 o’clock the sun came out and I sat there looking at all these graves and then I put poppies and a cross in front of the graves of the guys from my dad’s battery. But sitting there in the fog and just thinking…
“I don’t want this to be forgotten. If it wasn’t for guys like that we don’t know what we would be doing. We have to remember things like that especially now with all this stuff with Korea and Trump and how quick it can be to get into a conflict.”
Sudbury, who is vice-president of the Penticton branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, is also the historian for his dad’s battery.
He went to Puys, a few kilometres north of Dieppe, last year in an unofficial capacity.
Having previously talked to veterans who were there on that fateful day has brought the horror of that time home for him.
“I get respect from the people there when I go for what the Canadians sacrificed,” he said, unable to choke back the tears. “It’s very emotional, thanking the guys, meeting the guys who were there, who were wounded. Once you’ve been there and seen it, it’s a very moving thing.”
His father passed away in 2011 at the age of 91, one week before the artillery’s annual reunion.
What Sudbury especially likes are the large number of kids from the French region who attend the ceremonies.
“Last year when I was in Puys (France), there’s all these little school kids wearing black and white and I asked one of the parents who they were,” said Sudbury. “They said these are the children of Puys and every year they lay wreaths here. I had a bag full of poppies from my legion, like I do this year, and I said ‘would they like a Canadian poppy?’ and it was like Santa showed up.”
He also recalled a time when he took his elderly father to a Remembrance service at Vancouver College.
|Bob Sudbury of Penticton will be representing his father and the Penticton Royal Canadian Legion Saturday at the services marking the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid.
Mark Brett/Western News
Helping kids understand the sacrifice of veterans is also a large part of why each year he goes to Holy Cross School to help children there celebrate Remembrance Day.
According to Sudbury, his father always regretted not being at Dieppe with his men but he was in Normandy for D-Day.
And while the Dieppe Raid will go down as one of the darkest and bloodiest times in Canada’s military history, thanks to the efforts of Sudbury and others, those who made the ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten.