Windsor to honour soldiers of Dieppe raid for 75th anniversary

Saturday's event will pay tribute to the 121 young men from the region who were killed during the battle in northern France on August 19, 1942.

Those were 'the neighbours, the brothers, the husbands, the fathers of just about everybody in the community'

The valour and bravery of the Windsor and Essex County soldiers who landed at Dieppe 75 years ago will be honoured Saturday and their life stories preserved through the work of a Kingsville museum.

Five hundred and fifty-three soldiers with the Essex Scottish Regiment participated in the ill-fated raid in the early-morning hours of Aug. 19, 1942. Only 51 soldiers made it back to England that day. One hundred and twenty-one soldiers were killed and most of the rest spent years in prisoner of war camps.

The stories of those who perished and those who survived are being preserved by the Kingsville Historical Park Museum, which is creating historical profiles of each of the local veterans.

"Our purpose here is to try and tell the life stories of each and every one of these 553 men," said museum curator Kevin Fox. "We want to tell, not just the nine hours they spent on the beach, but the entirety of their lives -- who they were, what they did. We want history to remember not the event itself but the people who made up this event." 

Kevin Fox, curator of the Kingsville Historical Park Museum. (Tom Addison/CBC)

The Raid on Dieppe, code named Operation Jubilee, was the bloodiest single day for Canadian troops in the Second World War. A total of 4,963 Canadians took part in the raid. More than 900 soldiers were killed and nearly 2,000 were taken prisoner. Scores more were wounded. 

The Essex Scottish Regiment was hit particularly hard and the loss felt deeply on the streets and farms of Windsor and Essex County.

"There wasn't a household, I think, that went unaffected," said Fox. "Those were the neighbours, the brothers, the husbands, the fathers of just about everybody in the community."

Mary-Maureen Atkin's late father, Maurice Snook, took part in the raid. She and her husband, Jay Atkin, said it is important to preserve memories of Dieppe.

"We have come to realize what an incredible effort that was, what the men went through," said Jay. "We would like very much for the memory of all these men, and the knowledge of what they did, to perpetuate."

The mission was primarily to test German defences on the French coast in order to gather intelligence and, with any luck, capture prisoners who might have information that would help plan a further invasion.

But information about the defences turned out to be incorrect and the landing forces lost the element of surprise leading to a mass slaughter.

"They faced incredible odds," Fox said. "For all the bravery of the world, sometimes the defensive position is overwhelmingly in favour of the defenders and this was one of those cases."

There will be a memorial service in Dieppe Gardens on Windsor's waterfront at 1 p.m. Saturday. 

Manacles worn by Canadian Dieppe prisoners for approximately a year. (Kingsville Historical Park Museum)