Legion members commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid, which killed hundreds of Canadian soldiers in the fight against Nazi-led Germany, say the events of the Second World War are a reminder to guard against racism today.

More than 900 Canadians were killed in the failed raid at Dieppe, France, in the attempt to seize a German-held port in 1942.

Another 1,900 soldiers were either captured or wounded during the raid, which is now considered to have been a flawed and catastrophic attack.

As Saskatchewan veterans recall the impact of that loss of life on Canadian communities, they said the violent rally that left one dead in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend was a reminder to learn from the past.

Ronald Hitchcock, the first vice-president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 001 in Regina, said the battle against the kind of racism that existed under Nazi rule continues, albeit in a different form, today.

"The point is that history repeats itself and unless we do something about that, it's going to continue," said Hitchcock.

"So if the president of the United States won't recognize and acknowledge the fact that it's fascists and neo-Nazis that are organizing these efforts, then we are doomed."

wip charlottesville nationalists

Multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 11, 2017. Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other last Saturday after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star/Associated Press) (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star/Associated Press)

Violence broke out last Saturday in Charlottesville after a loosely connected mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists assembled to protest the city's decision to remove a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a man plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Retired major Keith Inches, who is also the curator of the Saskatchewan Military Museum in Regina, agreed that last week's events signaled a need to reflect on the lessons of the past.

"One of the problems is if you don't read history and try to understand what happened then, we do it again, and again," said Inches.

"If you change the dates, you think, well didn't that just happen?"

Ronald Hitchcock Legion 001 Regina

Ronald Hitchcock, the first vice-president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 001. (Radio-Canada)

Inches said the anniversary of Dieppe was a time to reflect on how the loss of so many soldiers in the Second World War shaped Saskatchewan today.

Members of the South Saskatchewan Regiment were among those at Dieppe and Inches said whole communities were devastated when they failed to come home.

"When you look at the numbers of the people that were killed early in the war from the little towns, communities and hamlets they were from, many of those don't exist anymore because those guys just never came back," said Inches.

"So there was an effect on the economic and social and cultural life of all those communities because they lost all of those young men."

Hitchcock said many of the British officials behind the Dieppe attack did not have the knowledge or experience to plan a successful raid.


Nazi view of Dieppe Raid. 19 August 1942. Copy negative. (Library and Archives Canada)

"A lot of those folks were people of high society and they received commissions," said Hitchcock.

"They didn't know a damn thing about what a soldier's job was and how to fight a war.

"They're the ones making the plans and no wonder this happened."

Photographs of men from the South Saskatchewan Regiment are on display at the Saskatchewan Military Museum.

There is also a list of all those who were captured, including Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Merritt, who was awarded a Victoria Cross for his efforts trying to help the Canadian troops escape.

A monument and cemetery for the Canadian soldiers has been established in France.

With files from Radio-Canada's Patrick Foucault and The Associated Press