Remembering Dieppe: Calgarians honour 75th anniversary of historic battle

A special ceremony was held at the Military Museums in Calgary on Saturday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid.

93-year-old Tommy Baker was just 16 when he joined the 14th Canadian Armoured Regiment — Calgary Tanks

Tommy Baker, 93, Received a standing ovation on Saturday for his service at Dieppe. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

A special ceremony was held at the Military Museums in Calgary on Saturday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid.

Politicians from all levels of government, military personnel and every day Calgarians were in attendance, but it was a 93-year-old veteran who captured attention.

Tommy Baker was part of the 14th Canadian Armoured Regiment — Calgary Tanks on Aug. 19, during his first tour of duty and was part of the landing force at Dieppe during the doomed operation in northern France. 

The beach landing was supposed to happen under the cover of darkness, but the Canadians, along with 1,000 British and 50 American soldiers, were late arriving on shore, and as the sun rose, they were left exposed to withering gunfire from German troops on the cliffs above.

Five thousand Canadian soldiers took part in the Dieppe Raid. Within hours, more than 3,000 were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. 

Baker was one of the wounded, being shot in the knee.

"I had to wait until they took me off the beach," he said. "Then they took me back to England and I was in the hospital for a couple of days."

Some of the medals earned by Tommy Baker, 93. Baker was injured during the Dieppe Raid. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Baker was just 16 years old when he joined the Calgary Tanks.

His daughter, Sandee Baker, says he tried to join three times before getting his parents' approval.

"He enlisted and his father said, 'you're too young,' and pulled him out.," she said. "Then he re-enlisted and his father pulled him out again, then on Feb. 14, he enlisted and grandpa said, 'if you want go and get yourself shot, you go right ahead.'"

Baker — along with 96-year-old Bill Stewart — was given a standing ovation for service in Dieppe during the ceremony, which highlighted how important the raid was to winning the Second World War.

A bugler plays during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Brent Peters, a former tank commander and member of the King's Own Calgary Regiment, says what Canadian soldiers did 75 years ago was groundbreaking.

"We were trying new things, we were trying new things with technology and I think that's the most important part, we were learning how to use the technology to its fullest," he said.

Canadian delegates in France

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr also led a Canadian government delegation to France to mark the sombre anniversary.

Governor General David Johnston noted this year marks the centennial anniversary of two great victories for Canada — the battles at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in the First World War — but says it's equally important to remember the losses, like the one at Dieppe.

"We must never forget the terrible cost of armed conflict and ensure that future generations remember, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past," Johnston said in a statement.

Ceremonies honouring the soldiers' sacrifice were held also Saturday in Dieppe and Montreal. A further ceremony will be held Sunday in Dieppe, New Brunswick.

With files from Terri Trembath and The Canadian Press