MS Hart and I were both selected to represent Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC) at the 70th Anniversary of the raid in Dieppe, France.
We flew into Trenton and had two full days of parade practice before departing for France. One the first day we practiced individual drill movements. The second day we trained with the contingent of 107 individuals from all three elements on the five different parade scenarios.
A military airbus took us from Trenton to Ottawa where we picked up veterans who participated in the raid. Those veterans were 92 to 95 years young and came from Montreal to Vancouver.
Then we flew to Lille, in northern France, where two buses drove us the three hours to Dieppe. Once in Dieppe, we were given our hotel room, which we shared with two or three roommates.
The next morning, the contingent was driven to the three beaches where the raid took place. A Canadian historian talked to us a length about what went on that day. I visualized what the soldiers saw once they landed on the beach.
We were also driven to the furthest point inland where the Allies marched to. Following this tour, we went to a theatre and saw the world premiere of “Dieppe Uncovered”. The declassification of documents led to this documentary, after 15 years of research by military historian David O’Keefe.
One of the main British spies featured in the documentary was present in the audience.
That night, we went to Les Vertus Canadian Cemetery where we had a chance to browse for an hour to pay respect to our fallen comrades before the official ceremony took place. To commemorate this event, MS Hart placed a Bos’n call in front of a navy man’s grave.
As the ceremony progressed, the fog rolled in and we could feel a presence in the air. The Canadian Command team were part of the sixth and final guards. We marched in front of the main cenotaph and stood at attention with our heads bowed down to reflect on all the servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for humanity.
The next two days were the main reasons why we trained in Trenton. The contingent performed two parades per day with weather ranging from 34-36°C. The Square du Canada parade was the longest, where the Vigil party stayed in position for two hours and 20 minutes. During this ceremony, there was a fly over by a Second World War airplane and flashing lights from a Royal Navy ship HMS Charger sending “WE WILL REMEMBER THEM” in Morse code to shore.
Once the main ceremony was over, the Guard of Honour left the Square du Canada and marched past three memorials along the Esplanade. They paid respect to the Fuselliers du Mont-Royal, the Essex Scottish Regiment and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry monuments.
Following this, we were invited by the City of Dieppe for lunch. We then proceeded to Puys for a wreath-laying and unveiling of commemorative plaque. The highlight of this parade was the release of hundreds of pigeons to remember the fallen.
After a well deserve rest and a bit of jetlag, we woke up early and drove to Pourville-sur-mer for a Ceremony of Remembrance. The Vigil party stayed still for more than one hour and 40 minutes. Two bronze statues were revealed showing two hands on a rifle at the position of “rest on your arms reverse.”
Following this we drove back to Dieppe for a wreath-laying ceremony at Memorial des Marins. During the ceremony, MS Hart piped the “still” and piped a “carry on”.
Once all parades were finished, as a thank you from the Governor General, we were bussed to a very nice restaurant for a French meal and had a last chance to mingle with him and the Canadian veterans.
Overall, this was an experience of a lifetime that I am very grateful to be part of. I have visited a part of the world where Canadians are still remembered as heroes 70 years after a significant event for our country. Seeing the vitality of all veterans made me extremely proud to represent them, my country and my service.
PO1 Yvan Vallières, Contributor
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