Dieppe anniversary marked amid sadness for Afghanistan loss

Veterans of the disastrous raid on Dieppe 65 years ago mark the anniversary in France amid word of the latest Canadian battle casualty from Afghanistan

The emotional trip back in time Sunday for elderly veterans of the disastrous Dieppe raid was heightenedwith the news that another Canadian soldier had been killed in Afghanistan.

A tribute to the 913 Canadians who died in the Aug. 19, 1942 battle in this northern French port was just underway when the army's chaplain, Maj. Michel Dion, announced in his prayer of remembrance that a 23-year-old Quebec-based soldier had been killed near Kandahar.

Pte. Simon Longtin, 23, of Longueuil, on Montreal's south shore, was the 67th combat death and the first of the Quebec-based Royal 22nd Regiment (the Van Doos) to die in the war-torn country.

With fewerveterans ofthe bloody eight-hour beachside battle in Dieppearound to remember, the sting of Canada's worst military defeat has begun to dull.

But a veteran of Afghanistan who accompanied the old soldiers on this emotional pilgrimage said the recent casualties have reawakened Canadians to their history and introduced a whole new generation to the pain of war.

"My children know what it's like," said Maj. Steve Gallager, a former battery commander with the 1st Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based in Shilo, Man.

Gallager, 42, who is now an artillery instructor at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B., said his family was close to Capt. Nichola Goddard, the country's first female soldier killed in combat, who died on May 17, 2006.

"They knew Nichola, Capt. Goddard, very well," Gallager said, addinghe's thought of Goddard at just about every ceremony of remembrance during the Dieppe pilgrimage.

"They used to walk with their dogs together."

In his visit to the stony beach, the 23-year career soldier was stunned by its breadth and the distance of open ground that Canadian soldiers had been ordered to cross under withering machine gun, mortar and artillery fire 65 years ago.

"They just did it, and that's the way our guys are today," he said.

Uneasiness over rising casualties

Drawing the link between the military sacrifices of past wars is something the Conservative government has done increasingly as the public has grown more uneasy about rising casualties in Afghanistan.

"It is a different world, but there is no question there is a link between what our soldiers fought for here and what they are fighting for in Afghanistan," Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson said following the day's second multi-nation tribute at the Canadian memorial overlooking the beachfront Esplande.

"The values we cherish as Canadians, those values have not changed in 65 years," he said.

"The mission is a different mission. It is defined differently. It's a different world that what we were living in 65 years ago. Still, at the end of the day, we are accepting our international responsibilities."

Cemetery holds 707 dead

Dignitaries and veterans from Canada, France and Britain took part in remembrance ceremonies throughout the weekend on the beach and at a cemetery where 707 Canadians are buried.

Nearly 5,000 Canadians participated in the ill-fated raid along with another 1,000 British and nearly 50 U.S. Rangers. In addition to the dead, 600 were wounded and another 1,975 surrendered and were led into a nearly three-year brutal captivity.

Fifteen Canadians of the Second World War took part in the ceremonies, but only nine were actual Dieppe survivors. A second, separate group of Canadian veterans travelled to the port as part of a commercial tour.

The raid on German fortifications, preceedingthe victorious D-Day assault by two years, was described as a test run for larger invasions which were to follow throughout the war.

Plan to test defences

The plan was to test German defences by briefly invading Dieppe and then retreating to Britain. But the Germans were ready and the battle turned into an utter tragedy.

"We're not here to judge the mission, we're here to honour those who conducted it," Thompson told the dignitaries and veterans.

At the first ceremony of the day, the monument at the Canadian war cemetery outside of Dieppe was carpeted in wreaths and flowers as veterans from each regiment that took part in the battle, the federal government and Allied nations paid their respects.

The delegations then headed off in buses for a second ceremony at Square du Canada, a green space on the beach of Dieppe backing onto the white cliffs.

Crowds cheered and clapped as the veterans were driven around the area in vintage 1940s jeeps and trucks. They were followed on foot by soldiers dressed in Second World War khaki uniforms and a French Army marching band.