Local Artifact Lenders Help the Juno Beach Centre Mark the 80th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid

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Dieppe
Destroyed landing craft on fire with Canadian dead on the beach. A concrete gun emplacement on the right covers the whole beach. The steep gradient can clearly be judged.

Earlier this month the Juno Beach Centre (JBC), Canada’s Second World War museum and memorial in Normandy, France, launched the temporary exhibition From Dieppe to Juno: The 80thAnniversary of the Dieppe Raid. The exhibition, produced in partnership with the War Heritage Institute (WHI) in Brussels, Belgium and sponsored by Seaspan Shipyards, runs until December 31st, 2023 in Courseulles-sur-Mer, France.

From Dieppe to Juno features a diverse array of artifacts and personal testimonies from people who participated in or were impacted by the raid. Visitors will be thrust into the tense context of 1942, the height of the Nazi regime’s powerful grip over Europe.

From Dieppe to Juno features a total of 72 artifacts. Casualties were so high in the Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) that artifacts are difficult to secure. “The objects we did find are quite powerful and reveal the significance of the raid,” said Marie Eve Vaillancourt, the Juno Beach Centre’s Director of Exhibitions. “Each of them is a true treasure,” she continues. “They will help the JBC tell the story of the Dieppe Raid through the individuals who experienced the raid and whose artifacts we will be showcasing. Their presence in France will help visitors understand the legacy of the Dieppe Raid and keep its memory alive for future generations.”

Eighteen of the artifacts came from Canadian loaners, either from Canadian museums or family collections. Gérard Audet was a private who served in Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal (FMR), a francophone regiment raised in the Montreal area. In 2017, Léandre Marsolais, Gérard’s great-grandson, rediscovered a box of wartime memorabilia that his great-grandfather had kept safely under his bed all his life. Gérard was captured at Dieppe and whilst in captivity made a pair of beautiful embroidered handkerchiefs in tribute to his regiment’s sacrifice on August 19th, 1942. Coincidentally, Hervé Fihue, a French historian and militaria collector, is loaning the JBC the helmet that Private Audet discarded when he surrendered on the beach at Dieppe. Léandre Marsolais says, “I am happy and moved that the helmet and family artifacts are on display in France and that people remember Gérard Audet, our hero.”

Private Gérard Audet was one of 344 FMR soldiers captured during the Dieppe Raid. The French-Canadian battalion was part of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division’s floating reserve for the operation. The fog of war and an incomplete message from shore led Major-General John Hamilton Roberts to order the FMR into action in support of the Essex Scottish. Sadly, the order compounded the unfolding disaster. The Fusiliers lost 513 soldiers (out of the 584 who participated) killed, wounded, and captured in just a few short hours. Audet and most of his comrades endured over 30 months in Nazi prisoner of war camps between 1942 and 1945.

Stories like Audet’s allow the JBC to illustrate what captivity was like for thousands of Canadians. Audet’s and other French-Canadian perspectives also help From Dieppe to Juno speak to the Quebecois reaction to the Dieppe Raid. Mr. Marsolais reflects, “For a long time, these artifacts represented the suffering that my great-grandfather experienced during the war. Nobody talked about it, we tried to forget. In 2018, when I did my research on what happened to him, when he was taken prisoner, we brought them out. We talked about it as a family. My 98-year-old great-grandmother told us what she remembered about his story. All her children wanted to participate. It brought us together. They are very precious these artifacts, because they allow us not to forget.”

The Dieppe Raid was the Canadian Army’s first major combat against Germany during the Second World War. It was planned as a one-day operation conducted primarily by Canadian troops on August 19th, 1942, with land, air and naval support from British and American troops. Its official objective remains shrouded in mystery and is the subject of widespread mythology and controversy.

Within fewer than 10 hours of fighting, two-thirds of a force of 4,963 Canadians was wounded, captured or killed. A total of over 900 Canadian soldiers were killed in action or died of wounds, almost 600 of whom remain buried in the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery in Hautot-sur-Mer, France.

The legacy of the Dieppe Raid extends beyond borders and time. In re-telling the story, From Dieppe to Juno explores the impacts of that legacy through the diverse experiences of witnesses from all walks of life.

The Dieppe Raid remains one of the most identifiable events in Canadian Second World War history, so much so that for many decades it occupied a greater place in the collective memory of Canadians than the Normandy landings of D-Day in 1944. It was not until recent years that the events at Juno Beach have caught up with Dieppe in Canadian memory. This new exhibition explores how the mythology linking the horror at Dieppe to the success of the Canadians on D-Day has evolved over time.

Long remembered as a tragic failure, the story of Dieppe is as complex as it is nuanced. It has been intensely studied by historians in the decades since, and continues to be debated amongst scholars and hobbyists alike. For visitors learning about the topic for the first time, From Dieppe to Juno provides an accessible, factual overview of the planning, the raid itself, and its aftermath. For more knowledgeable visitors, the exhibition will also delve into facets of the raid not often explored.

ABOUT THE JUNO BEACH CENTRE

The Juno Beach Centre was established in 2003 as a permanent memorial to all Canadians who were part of the Allied victory in the Second World War, and to preserve this legacy for future generations through education. The Centre in Normandy, France, pays homage to the nearly 45,000 Canadians who died during the war, of which 5,500 were killed during the Battle of Normandy and 381 on D-Day. Almost 20 years and more than 1 million visitors later, the Centre has been designated a site of national historic significance to Canada. It is owned and operated by the Juno Beach Centre Association, a registered charitable organization based in Burlington, ON, Canada.

ABOUT THE WAR HERITAGE INSTITUTE

The War Heritage Institute (WHI) is the Belgian scientific federal institution tasked with the preservation and public accessibility of military heritage. As such the WHI manages and conserves a number of important historical military collections from the Middle Ages to the Cold War. These collections are presented to the public in the six WHI sites: the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History in Jubilee Park in Brussels, the National Memorial of Fort Breendonk, Bastogne Barracks, the Trench of Death in Dixmude, the Kemmelberg command bunker and Gunfire in Brasschaat.

ABOUT SEASPAN SHIPYARDS

Seaspan Shipyards is proud to be Canada’s long-term, strategic shipbuilding partner for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy under the NSS. The NSS is a nation-building effort to create a sustainable Canadian shipbuilding industry, secure long-term job opportunities and build the next generation of ships for the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy. Through its NSS–related work, Seaspan Shipyards is leading the redevelopment of our domestic shipbuilding industry on the West Coast and delivering on the promise of ships built in Canada, by Canadians.

Fast Facts: The Dieppe Raid

  • A second Montreal-based infantry battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada also committed 111 soldiers from a single company to the Dieppe Raid. In their efforts to support the Royal Regiment of Canada at Blue Beach (Puys), to the east of Dieppe, the Black Watch lost 73 soldiers with 4 killed, 6 wounded, and 63 captured.
  • Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal committed 584 soldiers to the operation. In their tragic reinforcement of the Essex Scottish on Red Beach 513 of these soldiers became casualties, with 119 killed, 50 wounded, and 344 captured (many of whom were also wounded).
  • Total Canadian Army casualties were 3,367, with 907 dead (including those who died of wounds and as prisoners of war) and 1,946 captured.
  • In nine hours of fighting, the Canadian force suffered over 800 killed, with two-thirds of the force dead, wounded, or captured.
  • Although Canadians comprised the bulk of the raiding force, British, American, Polish, Belgian, Norwegian, Czech, New Zealand, and Free French forces also participated. Most of these contributions were made at sea or in the air.
  • Fifty US Army Rangers participated in the Dieppe Raid; the first time American ground forces engaged German troops in the Second World War. The United States Army Air Force also contributed approximately 150 aircraft and crews.
  • The Allies committed some 1,190 aircraft to the operation and were opposed by 313 German planes. This made the Dieppe Raid one of the largest single-day air battles of the war.
  • The Royal Navy assembled a force of 253 warships and landing vessels to support the operation.
  • The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division and attached 14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment (the Calgary Regiment) provided 4,963 out of the 6,090 troops involved in the raid.
  • Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, revived the raid with the support of the Royal Air Force and the Canadian Army.
  • Operation Rutter was cancelled in early July 1942 due to poor weather and a German airstrike on the raiding convoy.
  • Originally planned as Operation Rutter, the Dieppe Raid took place as Operation Jubilee.
  • The Dieppe Raid occurred on Wednesday, August 19, 1942.
  • Casualty rates during the Dieppe Raid outpaced those on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, commonly understood as the bloodiest day in British military history.
  • Reasons put forward for the Dieppe Raid include: a dress rehearsal for D-Day and appeasing the Soviet Union and United States in place of beginning the “Second Front” in 1942.
  • New evidence suggests that the Dieppe Raid had a covert objective: to capture a German Enigma machine and codebooks to assist British cryptanalysts in breaking German cyphers.
  • The Dieppe Raid failed to gather this intelligence but the British broke German cyphers in November 1942 after capturing these materials from a German U-boat.
  • The overarching purpose of the Dieppe Raid, including the importance placed on “pinching” an Enigma machine and codebooks at Dieppe, continues to be debated by historians.