'End of an era': First Dieppe remembrance service in Hamilton without a Dieppe veteran

Sunday marked the 76th anniversary of the Dieppe raid in France during the Second World War. It also marked the first time there wasn't a Dieppe veteran present in Hamilton.

Ken Curry is the only surviving RHLI Dieppe member alive, but couldn't make Sunday's service

Sunday marked the 76th anniversary of the Dieppe raid in France during the Second World War. It also marked the first time there wasn't a Dieppe veteran present. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

The service of remembrance for the 76th anniversary of the Second World War raid on Dieppe in Hamilton on Sunday was the first without any veterans of the raid in attendance.

"It's really the end of an era," said Lt. Col. Bryan Robertson, who led the service.

The annual service commemorates the 582 members of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) who fought in the deadly raid on the French coast on Aug. 19, 1942.

The raid resulted in a major loss of Canadian life with 197 Hamilton casualties.

Each year the service has seen fewer and fewer remaining veterans. Of the RHLI members, there's only one known survivor of the attack.

I'm the only one and I'm very honoured about it.- Ken Curry, 96, Dieppe veteran 

His name is Ken Curry.

At the age of 96, Curry told CBC News the trip from his home in Sidney, B.C. to Hamilton this year wasn't possible because of health reasons.

He wanted to be at the Dieppe Veterans Memorial Park near the lift bridge in Hamilton for Sunday's service.

"I'm the only one and I'm very honoured about it. I'm awfully sorry I'm not going, but my heart will be there," Curry said in a telephone conversation.

Of the 582 RHLI members that went ashore from assault boats, 197 were killed and 211 returned to England, 109 wounded and many becoming prisoners of war. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

"It's always a sad time for me this time of year with many memories of lost comrades, but I feel greatly honoured that I can still represent the regiment I served in. I've been honoured to speak before many groups and classrooms over the years. I know that Canada has many vets at this time and they, like me, represented the fighting in our country," Curry said.

He says he hopes to be in Hamilton this time next year to remember.

'We are down to one'

Robertson, a former RHLI commanding officer and now ordained minister, recognized Curry and the absence of other Dieppe raid veterans.

"We are down to one. We will honour him."

When asked about remembering veterans in the future, Robertson says to continue with services like Sundays.

"We'll just keep doing this and when there's none left, we'll still do it," Robertson told CBC News. 
To be here without any veterans is emotional- Kristal McFarland, granddaughter of veteran, Jack McFarland

"We're never going to let them forget."

It was a message heard loud and clear by people who attended the service, including Jack McFarland's granddaughter, Kristal.

"To be here without any veterans is emotional. It's the first time I've been here without any veterans, like all of us, and it's very sad. I just hope that we can continue to remember them forever and we just have to keep carrying on the legacy forever," she said.

Kristal McFarland's grandfather, Jack McFarland was a Dieppe veteran. He died in 2016 at the age of 95. His grandfather says that getting out the story of the raid of Dieppe was very, very important to him. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

McFarland was captured in the raid. He died in 2016 at the age of 95 and his ashes were brought back to France for the 75th anniversary to be scattered.

"It was a very emotional time for him and he was very emotional talking about it, but getting out the story of the raid of Dieppe was very, very important to him," she said.

"If my grandfather was here today, he'd want to share the message of remembering the past. Remembering the people who fought for us."

In 2014 Deborah Adams lost her father, Stanley Darch, who also fought at Dieppe.

Adams says the veterans' stories need to be told to keep their memory alive.

"It's scary. All the veterans are dying, which means that we're losing a lot of history," she said.

After McFarland's death, only Curry and Fred Engelbrecht remained until Engelbrecht died last May at the age of 98.

Remembering Dieppe 

Curry joined the RHLI at the age of 15. He lied and said he was older. The minimum age was 16.  

He says his buddies were heading overseas and he wanted to go too.

His officer at Canadian Forces Base Borden told him, however, that if he got a note from his mother, giving him permission, he too could head to war.

When I was at Dieppe it was a terrible place when we landed.- Ken Curry, 96, Dieppe veteran 

Curry says that when he was lying on the beach at Dieppe, he was 20 years old.

"I went overseas," he said "and I remember clearly lying on the beach there and bullets were flying and there's guys dropping around, you could see them. It was just terrible and I thought to myself, 'man oh man why did I ever let my mother write that it's ok to go overseas.'"

Fred Engelbrecht (right) and Jack McFarland were both captured in the raid on Dieppe during the Second World War on Aug. 19, 1942. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Curry remembers those dangerous moments.

"When I was at Dieppe it was a terrible place when we landed. They dropped the ramps and we flew off and went into a hail of bullets and shrapnel and shells and machine gunning from the air," said Curry.

"We didn't have a snowball's chance of getting through. We did what we could. I could see men dying around me and others were yelling and badly wounded, but there's nothing you could do for them until we withdrew and we put what we could on the boats and got on the boats ourself."

"Men were dropping all around me," said Curry. "I was very, very fortunate."

Curry became a prisoner of war (PoW) when a German soldier popped up behind a rock, put his gun up, and told Curry to put his hands up.

He was a PoW for about three years until an American jeep came by and brought him and others to a plane that would take them back to England.

Engelbrecht was a fellow PoW. They were among the 6,000 Allied soldiers, sailors and aircrew mostly made up of Canadians in what is considered a record day for Canadian deaths in World War Two. Over 900 Canadians died at Dieppe.

Of the 582 RHLI members that went ashore from assault boats, 197 were killed, 211 returned to England and 109 were wounded.

laura.clementson@cbc.ca