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Dieppe veteran on doomed raid: 'It felt I was on the target range again'

The last three veterans of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry stood as tall as they could for a trio of 90-year-olds, "overwhelmed" by the support at a ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the disaster at Dieppe.

Ken Curry recalled the Disaster at Dieppe after 73rd anniversary of raid

From left to right, Jack McFarland, Fred Englebrecht and Ken Curry sit at the 73rd anniversary of the Rieppe raid. (Jeff Green/CBC)

The last three veterans of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry stood as tall as they could for a trio of 90-year-olds on Wednesday, "overwhelmed" by the support at a ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the disaster at Dieppe.

The Second World War raid of the France coast — known as one of the worst military disasters in Canadian history — was marked at Dieppe Veterans Memorial Park near the lift bridge with a military ceremony, playing of the last post, hymns and prayers.

"For me today it's a very moving thing," said Dieppe veteran Ken Curry. "They made old soldiers feel once again like young soldiers."

The featured guests were veterans Jack McFarland, Fred Englebrecht and Curry – the last three remaining veterans from the RHLI unit. They were three of the 600 Hamilton soldiers sent in the raid. The raid involved some 6,000 allied troops, mostly Canadians, which charged the beach on Aug. 19, 1942. One in six died. 

'It felt I was on the target range again'

Of the Hamilton unit, 197 were killed on the beach — a third of the unit — and many became prisoners of war. Only 211 returned to England, half of which returned wounded.

Curry remembers the day on the beach as one he fought to be a part of. He had lied about his age when he enlisted, but got a note from his mother to stay with his unit.

"When they dropped the ramps, it felt I was on the target range again," Curry said. "The fire was so bad … I'm down there and the bullets are bouncing off the tank and I'm holding the base plate of my mortar and the bullets are bouncing off that and in the sand beside me. I don't know how I didn't get hit."

"When I was laying on the beach, with all that bullets coming around me, I said to myself, 'Jesus, why did I ever let my mother, why did she give me the note. What am I doing here?' But fortunately I came through it," Curry said.

When speaking about fallen friends, Curry held back tears. But he also remembered the happier times, on being liberated as a prisoner of war (POW) by American fighters.

'We ran in all directions'

"My happiest moment is when we were liberated. And I can remember that. We were up in East Prussia," Curry said, describing how the German soldiers abandoned the POWs when American fighters showed up.

"We ran in all directions," said Curry. The Germans had been marching Curry and his fellow POWs, so when they were freed, they were in bad shape. He said when they approached a village, the mayor came out and surrendered the village to the soldiers. They exchanged food and shelter for a note from Curry that the village had treated them well.

"We had a terrible time, but [the mayor] fed us like anything," Curry said.

After that, he had the happiest moment of his life: reuniting with his wife, Norma.

"I was married just before I was captured. And my wife came down, and God, I couldn't explain. That has got to be my happiest moment when I saw her. I get broken up when I think of it," Curry said.

Close to 100 officers, veterans, cadets and members of the public attended Wednesday's ceremony.  

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