Downtown Hamilton museum is a living memory of Dieppe

Listen here as museum curator Stan Overy talks about some of the men who were lost.
Stan Overy is curator of the RHLI museum on James Street North. (Kate Adach/CBC)

Many of the relics from the Dieppe Raid can be found on James Street North, tucked away in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry’s museum underneath the John W. Foote, VC Armoury.

Photos, medals, guns, thick wool army jackets, handcuffs, books and newspaper clippings are among the Dieppe memorabilia stored behind glass display cases in the warmly lit museum.

It even holds the prestigious Victoria Cross medal that was awarded to the Honorary Lt. Col. John W. Foote for his heroic efforts inhelping the wounded at Dieppe.

But the best part of visiting the museum is the stories Stan Overy shares.

He's the museum curator and he makes himself available to tour individuals and groups through the multi-room exhibits by appointment.

Overy’s friendly, chatty nature and enthusiasm for the city’s military history helps visitors leave with a stronger appreciation for the men who were lost in battle.

Here are a few of the stories Overy shared about men in the Dieppe Raid during a recent visit to the museum:

The Dieppe iconic image, with an RHLI man in the foreground.

One image stands out among those of the Dieppe Raid, an iconic photo of its devastation. Two dead soldiers lie face up on the beach, surrounded by tanks, a ship and a smoke-filled sky.

Nobody can be sure of the identities of the men in the picture. What appear to be distinctive gator boots have lead many to believe the men were American rangers.

But Stan Overy, the RHLI’s museum curator, said the soldier in the foreground may have been part of Hamilton’s regiment. A veteran visiting the museum told him he recognized the man to be Sgt. William J. Bennett of the RHLI . The former soldier was convinced he remembered interacting with the fallen man before he died.

Listen to Stan Overy tell that story:

John Newton signed up for adventure.

Robert John Newton signed up for an "adventure" when he enlisted in the army, Overy said.

Newton and his English wife, Doris Shielah Crowhurst, had married on March 1, 1942. The museum houses a photo of the new couple taken on their wedding day. 

Only five months later, both Newton and his best man at their wedding, Pte. Walter Tucker, were "presumed killed" at Dieppe. Newton’s widow went on to remarry and have a daughter. It was that woman, the daughter, who came to the RHLI museum to ask for more information.

With her support, Overy sent away for Newton’s enlistment papers. The Canadian soldier had been working at the Dominion Glass Company in Hamilton prior to the war, Overy said.

Tommy Graham (middle) participated in the Dieppe raid.

Tommy Graham survived the Dieppe Raid and was awarded a Distinguished Conduct medal for bravery there. But he didn’t make it out of World War II alive,Overy said. He was killed in Italy.  Graham’s story represents just how few soldiers who were part of the Dieppe Raid survived long enough to build a new life after it all.

Listen to Stan Overy explain: