Beachcomber & The Dieppe Raid
19 August 1942

“Beachcomber is being presented with his PDSA Dickin Medal by Dorothea St. Hill Bourne, Secretary of the PDSA Allied Forces Mascot Club.”
Source: Britain’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

Our BVP2017 group has officially returned home as of late last night. In the hustle and bustle of the program, we had to skip a few regular social media posts that have been favourites of our followers, especially #MascotMondays. Consequently, in honour of our #BVP2017 group returning home and the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid last Saturday, we are sharing the brief story of an animal that returned home as well, and received a medal for it.

In the early hours of 19 August 1942, from the beaches of Dieppe, Canadian forces released the carrier pigeon Beachcomber“, who was entrusted with the delivery of an important message to England. Taking flight with blazing speed through hazardous conditions, including one of the largest aerial dogfights of the war, Beachcomber safely reached England, informing higher command that the Canadians had landed at Dieppe. In March 1944, the English People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals awarded Beachcomber the Dickin Medal, (awarded to animals who displayed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in military service).  

Beachcomber remains the only Canadian pigeon, and one of only three Canadian service animals, to be awarded the Dickin Medal.   

The PDSA Dickin Medal
© IWM (EPH 3546)

The official citation reads: 

Pigeon – NPS.41.NS.4230 
Date of Award: 6 March 1944 

 “For bringing the first news to this country of the landing at Dieppe, under hazardous conditions in September, 1942, while serving with the Canadian Army.”  

For more information on the Dickin Medal and the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, visit https://www.pdsa.org.uk/what-we-do/animal-honours/the-dickin-medal   

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 19 August 2017

Veteran Robert Spencer and BVP2017 students.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. In honour of this momentous occasion the #BVP2017 students attended official commemoration ceremonies and had the privilege of forming part of the honour guard. Earlier in the day they visited the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, where over 700 of the 916 Canadians who died on August 19, 1942 are buried.

(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)

BVP2017 students meet the Honourable Minister of Veteran Affairs, Kent Hehr.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
BVP2017 students with the official Dieppe75 poster.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ceremony at Puys (Blue Beach).
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Il y a un mot en particulier qui me vient en tête pour décrire cette journée : honneur. En effet, après notre réveil assez tôt, nous sommes repartis dans l’autocar avec les anciens combattants et personnes affiliées que nous avions rencontrés la veille. Suite à des brèves discussions, nous avons assisté à la première partie de la cérémonie du 75e de Dieppe. La Fondation Vimy était représentée par trois de nos participants qui ont récité « La promesse de ne pas oublier ».

Dans le même cimetière, j’observais à nouveau les pierres tombales. L’épitaphe qui m’a impressionné était sur la pierre de J. C. Palms, un soldat américain enrôlé dans les forces canadiennes au sein du Essex Scottish Regiment, et lisait : « Il s’est réveillé du rêve qu’est la vie. »

Par la suite, nous avons été invités à joindre la seconde partie de la cérémonie, près de la plage. Une fois arrivés, nous avons rencontré et chaleureusement salué le ministre des Anciens combattants. Deux autres participants ont à nouveau représenté notre fondation et déposé une couronne. Portant l’uniforme rouge, au milieu du bruit des saxophones, des tubas et des cymbales jouant avec ardeur les hymnes nationaux, je sentais les regards se tourner vers moi. Quel honneur !

-Yaman Awad, Anjou, Quebec

 

Veteran Alfred Lonsdale & BVP2017 Students.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

August 19th, 1942 will always be remembered as the day of the Allied landings at Dieppe. Yesterday, we walked along the same pebble-stoned beaches of those brave men; those who landed, fought, and died, 75 years ago. Today, we saw the graves in which they lie. The cemetery was packed with people from local communities and travellers from abroad who came especially for the commemorative ceremony. Two of us stood at the front of the crowd, alongside a 93 year-old veteran Alfred Lonsdale who saw the beaches of Dieppe from a warship in 1942 and then those at Normandy two years later on D-Day in June 1944. Alfred saluted sharply after I laid a wreath at the foot of the Cross of Sacrifice, indeed, at the feet of the ghosts of Dieppe. That’s who Alfred was saluting.

The night before, we participated in another ceremony. We walked between the rows of gravestones, lit by candlelight, reading the names. What jumped out at me, after visiting so many World War cemeteries, were all the different branches of the army represented. So many airmen, so many signalmen, among all the infantrymen. At the end we had time to plant remembrance crosses and commemorate a soldier of our choosing. I sought out an unknown Royal Air Force airman. My grandfather served in the RAF in the 1960’s, and I planted that cross for him. We will remember them.

-David Alexander, Pointe-Claire, Quebec

Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today we attended the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. The ceremony was very moving and I felt privileged to be able to participate in this important event. The presentations and acts of remembrance were touching but what had the most profound impact on me were two small boys in the crowd who could not have been more than seven years old. Seeing these two made me realize that remembering the soldiers who died in the World Wars is not enough; we also have to work to keep peace throughout the world so that the horrific conflicts of the past are never repeated.

When I saw these two boys, I thought to myself, “I hope they never have to fight like all the men buried around me had to fight.” All the graveyards I had seen on the program thus far were not only sites of remembrance, but they were also a warning of the cost of war. Throughout the past week and a half, I have seen the impact the two World Wars had on the communities and the people when they were occurring and the impact they still have to this day. Suddenly, everything I had seen became a lesson screaming that we have to preserve peace.

In the First World War, the soldiers fought what they believed was the War to End All Wars – they fought and died for peace. In the Second World War, soldiers fought against the Axis – they fought and died for the freedom of occupied and oppressed peoples. It is not enough for us to remember their sacrifice. We have to work so that their deaths have a lasting impact. We have to work towards peace!

Patricia Kennedy, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.

75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid
19 August 1942 – 2017

The Atlantic coast takes on a saucer-shaped indentation in front of Dieppe, creating a ring of cliffs from which the Canadians came under fire. In this photo, returning Canadians examine German fortifications at Dieppe in 1944.
Credit: Lieut. Ken Bell / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-134448.

 

“Disembarkation of wounded troops during Operation JUBILEE, the raid on Dieppe.”
Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-183773.

Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. On 19 August 1942, 4,963 Canadians led the 6,100-strong raiding force as it landed on 8 separate points of the Atlantic coast. While local successes were achieved by British commandos attacking artillery batteries at neighbouring Varengeville and Berneval, the Canadians struggled to enter the town from the main landing beaches. Only half of the supporting armour from the Calgary Regiment (Tank) made it past the seawall, the rest bogging down or breaking tank treads on the shingle beach. A vicious infantry battle took place within the beachfront casino and surrounding streets, while the remaining tanks, blocked by anti-tank obstacles, provided fire support. By 09:30, just six hours after the first landings, a general withdrawal began. Tanks that had passed the seawall covered the retreat to the beaches. As the tanks pulled back, they too became stuck on the shingle beach. Fighting valiantly, their crews remained in their tanks, serving as immobile gun support. By 14:00, the withdrawal was complete.  

The Canadians suffered 916 fatalities across the three branches of service. Only 2,210 of the 4,963 Canadians, many of whom were wounded, returned to England. Total casualties numbered 3,367, including 1,946 as prisoners of war (POW).  

Two Canadians received the Victoria Cross for their actions that day, as well as a British Commando 

Reverend John W. Foote, VC.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-501320.

Reverend John W. Foote, VC, of Madoc, Ontario, became the first member of the Canadian Chaplain Services to earn the Victoria Cross. As Chaplain of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Foote walked up and down the beach, administering aid to the wounded and dying. During the withdrawal, Foote made countless trips bringing the wounded to the evacuation craft arriving at the beach. Finally, at the end, Foote stepped off the last craft out, and rejoined those left stranded on the beach, in order to provide comfort and ministry to the thousands of Canadian POWs. 

Lt.-Col. Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt, VC.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence, 2017.

Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt, VC, of Vancouver, British Columbia, led the South Saskatchewan Regiment ashore at Pourville. As the regiment suffered mounting casualties attempting to cross a bridge, Merritt stepped forward and calmly walked numerous parties across through murderous fire. When the order for withdrawal was given, Merritt, though twice wounded, mounted a rear-guard action that enabled many others to escape off the beach. He too became a prisoner of war.

 

The official medal citation for Honourary Captain John Weir Foote, VC.
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 12 February 1946, Supplement: 37466 Page: 941.
The official medal citation for Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt, VC.
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 2 October 1942, Supplement: 35729, Page: 4323.
The official medal citation for Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt, VC.
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 2 October 1942, Supplement: 35729, Page: 4324.