Dieppe remembered 71 years later

Hamilton's many Dieppe victims were mourned at beachside ceremony today as the raid's brutal impact on the city is marked. At the memorial, 93-year-old Fred Engelbrecht recalled the raid, his capture and determination to escape.

In 1943, the only thing running through 22-year-old Fred Engelbrecht's mind was escaping from Nazi Germany.

Engelbrecht  had landed on the beaches of Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942 as a member of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. Of the 582 who went ashore, only 211 of them returned to England that afternoon — most of them injured. Another 197 men were killed  and 174 were taken as prisoners of war.

Engelbrecht was one them.

"I spent the better part of two years tied up, chained up, all that old crap," the 93-year-old  told CBC Hamilton just after a ceremony at the Dieppe Veteran's Memorial Park Monday morning, commemorating the 71st anniversary of the raid.

'I spent nine days in the hills of Czechoslovakia living like an animal.'—Fred Engelbrecht, Dieppe survivor

"But I didn't like the idea. I kept saying, 'what am I doing here?'"

He first tried to escape while being transported through France in a boxcar, he says.

"I was hanging on the outside of a car going through France … looking for a spot to jump," he said. "But the guns behind me opened up and I jumped back in the freaking car."

Had he escaped, the other ten men in the boxcar surely would have been shot, he says. His friend — another surviving Hamilton Dieppe vet named Jack McFarland — was among them. "He was in that car, wounded," Engelbrecht said.

Not to be discouraged, Engelbrecht finally got his shot at escape while posing as a British soldier to get out of the camp on a worker's run. "I spent nine days in the hills of Czechoslovakia living like an animal," he said. "Me and another Hamilton boy." He was eventually picked up by the allies, and was one of the lucky few to make it home.

Engelbrecht says he is continuously thankful to see people come out to ceremonies like the one Monday morning to pay their respects to veterans.

Over 100 people were at the memorial park to hear a service by Reverend Bryan Robertson. Many laid wreaths at the foot of the memorial, which was designed to replicate the beach at Dieppe.

"It's wonderful. I think to myself, 'Ah, there won't be too many people — there are only a few of us left, anyways,'" Engelbrecht said

"It's beyond my expectations, to tell the truth."

It can be a tough time for many veterans — remembering friends who died, and the carnage the survivors had to see. But Engelbrecht says he's managed to get past all that.

"I'm 93 years old — and I'm tired of remembering."

Except for days like this one.