Saturday, October 3rd
We left our hilltop campsite at Fe’Camp with the beautiful view of the English Chanel and headed towards Dieppe. “Sophie” took us away from the water through pastureland where cows of all colours, sheep and horses grazed. Although Dieppe was only 80 kilometres away “Sophie” told us it would take us the better part of one and a half hours to reach it. We knew what that meant; narrow country roads with many rotaries and villages. What the heck if it was going to be a few hours why not take the scenic route. At the first opportunity we turned toward the water on what was little more than a trail, but paved and the sign post indicated a village on the channel was ahead.
The coastal route is absolutely gorgeous if you like the water, sheer cliffs rising from it and or long stretches of sandy beaches. It was really difficult to imagine the horror that fell across this idyllic area 71 years ago.
The fishing village of Pourville lay ahead and the tide was out. I turned to Bill and said we have to stop at this beach. Many others had the same idea, although they probably stopped for the fish market that was open along the street.
A fair amount of cash was dropped building the sea wall that separated the coastal road from the water. On the road side the wall was about 15’ tall. The walkway along the top from cliff to cliff was 10’ wide and 4-5 kms. long. On the water side pebbles cascaded down to the beach which at low tide was at least 100 yards wide.
I was in heaven. I had an endless flat beach to walk in warm very shallow water. It was a lovely 2 hours spent wandering the beach, examining the tidal pools in the rocky areas and basking in the sun. The wind had had stopped blowing and the water was very calm.
We continued our drive along the coast and came upon view after breathless view of the water and cliffs. It didn’t take long to reach Dieppe and we stopped for a picnic lunch overlooking the harbour, the water and the shoreline.
Dieppe sat on hills surrounding a cove and a harbour with cliffs towering on either side of it. Other than a large market in the center of town and about 1000 motorcycles of all types roaring through it something else was happening as streets were closed by the police and we couldn’t find the museum dedicated to the fallen Canadian soldiers at Dieppe. “Sophie” kept directing us to streets that were barricaded.
Alas we moved on but I was keeping my eyes open for the Canadian Cemetery.
I need to back up and provide a little personal history here as some of you might be wondering why I was so determined to visit this area.
The Dieppe Raid, on August 19th 1942, brought heavy losses for the troops involved, but at the same time yielded a large amount of information for the Allies intelligence services.(That is what they say anyway) It was the first major reconnaissance expedition carried out by Allied troops, largely Canadian, hence my connection; The Royal Hamilton Light Brigade (RHLI) of which my father’s brother (later commissioned to the position of Lieutenant Colonel) survived the battle. Many of his and my father’s friends who served with the RHLI did not. I wanted to pay tribute to all those who didn’t come back to Hamilton by birthplace.
In human terms this operation was a calamity. The failure of the operation was exploited by the Nazi propaganda machine to demonstrate the invincibility of the Atlantic Wall.
The idea of a landing off the French coast was an old one. Winston Churchill said, “We will return” in June of 1940 when his troops escaped from Dunkirk and returned to English soil.
Dieppe is now a very large city and as we were entering a large rotary I saw a small sign that read Canadian Cemetery. Bill went around the rotary again and made the turn. It was a very narrow, barely covered in hardtop country road whose condition deteriorated as we progressed.
At our next turn the cemetery appeared on the corner. It was set in an acre of land, surrounded by a well maintained hedge and active farmers’ fields. It appeared to be a very peaceful setting.
Most of the gravestones bore the Maple Leaf, a name, unit (from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec) and date of birth and in many cases age at death. There were also gravestones marking Royal Marines (UK) New Zealanders, Scots, Australians, one from South Africa and many marked unknown. I endeavoured to read and film the headstones as I walked the rows thinking about the “Hell” that surrounded them that day and those left at home wondering where their sons, husbands and fathers was. Many parents were never grandparents, many wives never married again, many children never knew their fathers. What an emotional day it was for me.
I will never see November 11th the same way again. I will truly remember!!
Bill and I talked about our visit as we drove to our campsite on the out skirts of Paris. Needless to say the last three days had been very provocative, thoughtful, moving and exhausting. As a result we decided to take tomorrow off, process, relax and prepare ourselves to tour Paris.