Thursday, May 31, 2018

Editor's Column: As Published in Norwich Gazette (10).


[Photo: "I lost my first comrades at Dieppe. Others were wounded." D. Harrison]

Dieppe Raid Pt. 2: Norwich Boy Deals with Aftermath 

My father trained for the Dieppe Raid for several months. He sailed to, and assembled at, the operation’s embarking point on two occasions. But he did not participate in it. He says he missed the action by one day. And I say, thank goodness for that.

Close comrades, however, were killed. His commanding officer and stoker were captured as POWs. So, though he missed the actual action, he did not entirely miss its aftermath. I feel he may have passed the next 61 years of his life dealing with - at times - deeply-felt losses and associated anger, unanswered questions and doubts about the raid’s validity, and more, related to the event.

In memoirs, penned in 1975, he says, “I wasn’t there, I was on leave (with about 35 other sailors). But I came back early because I knew there was a raid coming, though I didn’t know where, and was in position to see the troopship Duke of Wellington carrying barges, my oppo (i.e., my opposite, or closest regular workmate) and other buddies to Dieppe and certain death for the soldiers.”

He saw troops and mates leave, perhaps with a sense of dread, and was then on hand for the return of survivors.

The Brantford Expositor (1944) reports that my father “returned to duty just as the Dieppe casualty lists were coming in” and it was likely then he discovered, officially, that “seven of his Combined Operations colleagues failed to come back from that cross-Channel venture.”

And how did he handle the news that comrades had been wounded, taken prisoner or killed?

He says, “I was asked to go and clean up Assault Landing Crafts as they struggled back from Dieppe. I absolutely refused. I was so incensed I also refused to go to church there. I went to the door but never went inside.”

His sense of loss, anger and doubt were evident from that day forward.

Thirty years after the war ended he started writing memoirs, and when he mentioned Dieppe his first words were, “The next (raid) on August 19, 1942 should have been aborted too,” soon followed by, “it was a senseless waste of blood. The Germans were ready because we ran into a German convoy in the channel... I will remember it as a complete, useless waste of good Canadian blood and no one - even those who say we learned a valuable lesson there - will ever change my mind.”

Fifty-four years after Dieppe his feelings appear only slightly softened. He writes, “So much has been written and televised (e.g., captured films), with many reasons given for the raid. Possibly much was learned but I am convinced more was lost.”

In part he was referring to Lloyd “Let me at ‘em” Campbell (London; mentioned in an earlier column), Joe McKenna (PEI), Richard Cavanaugh (Ottawa), all manning landing crafts and lost to him on August 19.

Fortunately, my father’s commanding officer and stoker (POWs) returned to Canada after the war and he had important opportunities to visit them both.

Stoker R. Brown (left), D. Harrison, (Lt.) R. McRae (back), Gash Bailey.
Combined Ops veterans reunite at a Navy gathering, circa 1980.

Better still, in the mid-1990s he often visited certain other veterans, and together they reached out to fellow survivors in order to compile their stories about the RCNVR and Combined Operations - the WW2 training, raids and operations, gains and losses, chaos and carnage, even humorous times on leave.

Dozens of vets responded, and the books produced were then and are now very important works, in my opinion.

Those that were lost at Dieppe and other operations are remembered well. And the survivors, including my father, surely gained some rewarding, helpful (even therapeutic) insights from the many stories. For example, they were not alone in suffering deep loss, associated anger or survival guilt.

More columns to follow.

Photos GH, as found in St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War Volume 1*

* There are two volumes of veterans' stories related to their WW2 experiences as members of RCNVR and Combined Operations. Several stories from the books are presented on this website. See 'short stories re Combined Ops' in 'click on Headinds' in right hand margin.

No comments:

Post a Comment