Honouring the fallen in France

News Article / September 13, 2017

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By Corporal Crystal Roche

As I stood on the beaches at Dieppe, in France, with 120 fellow members of the Canadian Armed Forces, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and honour to be representing 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, and the Royal Canadian Air Force during the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid, Operation Distinction, from August 11 to 21.

The first part of our journey started with contingent members from throughout Canada assembling in Ottawa to receive their taskings and conduct training. The contingent consisted of the Guard of Honour, the flag party, the vigil members, and the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy. Once we had completed these, it was onward to Dieppe.

In Dieppe, the first thing that became evident was the respect and affection France feels for Canada and for the many Canadian men who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Dieppe Raid. We couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Canadian flag flying high, the town’s residents proudly donning poppies in remembrance. It was overwhelming to receive such a warm welcome. It made us feel even more proud and honoured to be representing our nation.

During our first day, we had an amazing battlefield tour, led by the Directorate of History and Heritage’s director and chief historian Dr. Steve Harris. We walked each beach as he explained the events that unfolded the day of the raid. No image taken could do the beaches justice more than seeing them firsthand. As I looked across the large-pebbled beaches, up the steep hills and to the enormous cliffs above, the reality of the obstacles our soldiers faced became clear.

At first, a great sadness washed over me, followed by pride and humility: I was awed by the courage each one of those men must have had. They landed on the beaches only to make their way up under heavy fire, with nowhere to take cover. The odds were against them, yet they never gave up.

We spent the next two days practising intense drill and training to ensure that we would demonstrate the highest levels of drill for the upcoming four ceremonies. I had the honour of standing vigil, with three fellow airmen. Our role as the vigil was to march out onto our places at each corner of the cenotaph before the arrival of the parade and the beginning of the ceremony. Once in our places, we would perform synchronized drill that would see us with our backs turned to the cenotaph, weapons reversed upon our boots, our heads bowed and hands resting on the butts of our weapons. We would stand guard, motionless, until the parade marched off and the ceremony ended.

The day before the official ceremonies were to take place, we attended a luncheon with Canadian veterans and dignitaries. Of the 15 Second World War veterans present, four—Paul Delorme, Stan Edwards, David Hart and Maurice LeBlanc—had taken part in the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942. This amazed me. Not only had these men fought and survived the raid to make it back home but, 75 years later, they were back to honour their fallen comrades. It was a privilege to be in the same room with them.

Later that afternoon, at Saint-Aubin-Le-Cauf cemetery, in a small town southeast of Dieppe, I attended a tribute to the airmen who participated in the Canadian raid. In the cemetery rest Pilot Officer John Edwin Gardiner and Pilot Officer Norman Monchier, Canadian airmen who died the day of the raid. Knowing ahead of time this service was being held in a small town, I was expecting a small gathering. I could have not been more wrong, and was astonished when about 150 people turned out to honour these two airmen and the great sacrifice they made.

Over the next two days, we participated in ceremonies at Puys, Square du Canada, Pourville, and the Canadian War Cemetery. I have never been so proud to wear my uniform and call myself Canadian as I was during each of those moments. I particularly recall a moment at Square du Canada, when one of our veterans was reciting Ode of Remembrance. I was standing vigil at the cenotaph, focusing on every word being spoken. As he neared the end of the poem, for a moment, his voice cracked as he fought back his sorrow to finish the last few words. Immediately, my eyes filled with tears. I will never understand what this brave veteran went through, but my heart went out to him and all of those who did not return home.

Participating in the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I am proud and honoured to have been a part of. It’s one thing to read about history and to watch documentaries, but nothing hits home like walking in the footsteps of those who lived it. It was amazing to see firsthand the special bond that exists between France and Canada, one that has stayed strong through the past 75 years, and one I’m certain will continue forever.

The French have not forgotten the great sacrifice so many Canadians made fighting for their freedom, and neither have we. Together, we will continue to remember those who bravely gave their all.

Corporal Crystal Roche is with 404 Long Range Patrol and Training Squadron Courseware Development.

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