When Canadian troops landed on the beaches of
Dieppe on August 19, 1942 during World War Two, those among them of French-Canadian stock were perhaps returning to their ancestral home town after an interval of more than 300 years.
On July 23, 1632, inhabitants of this small fishing village on the French coast of the English Channel waved goodbye to 300 of their loved ones who had agreed to help colonize the recently created settlements in New France, two of which we now call Montreal and Quebec City.
Actually, these hardy souls weren't the first Dieppois to brave the treacherous waters of the Atlantic Ocean seeking adventure in North America. The brothers Michael and Thomas le Vasseur, two renowned French navigators, were living in Dieppe when they were recruited by explorer René Goulaine de Laudonnière for an expedition to Florida. They sailed from Le Havre on April 20, 1564 and the voyage resulted in the founding of Fort Caroline, the first French settlement in the New World.
While the 5,000
Canadian troops landing in and around Dieppe
that fateful August day in 1942 received a hostile and tragic welcome from Nazi troops in the German-occupied town - with more than 900 killed in action and close to 2,000 taken prisoner - Canadian visitors today are greeted enthusiastically by the locals. The Dieppe Raid has been woven into the fabric of the town's history and tourists wearing Canada pins are still singled out by passersby who thank them for the bravery of their fellow countrymen.
The savvy traveller, however, knows that Dieppe offers much more than just a visit to the war museum and the beaches where the invasion, codenamed
Operation Jubilee, took place just over 70 years ago. There are a number of other attractions that make this quaint waterfront community well worth visiting.
Nestled between towering limestone cliffs, Dieppe is a photographer's dream. What started out as a tiny fishing village almost a thousand years ago is today a bustling maritime port where the day's catch of scallops, herring and other delicacies from the deep are offloaded to be shipped to the finest restaurants in France. The fishing trawlers and the masts of pleasure craft at a gigantic marina combine with the colourful shops and hotels on the waterfront to offer souvenir photos that will dazzle the folks back home.
Probably the best spot to take that prizewinning picture is from the Citadel on top of one of the limestone cliffs that encircle the town. Here, an ancient castle has watched a maritime panorama unfold for hundreds of years.
The six hundred year old Château-Musée, just a short stroll from the town centre, now serves as a museum telling the town's maritime history. The limestone and flint fortification also houses more than a thousand pieces of carved ivory dating back to the 16th century, many created by local sailors during long sea voyages. The intricate carvings take such shapes as crucifixes, rosaries, statuettes, fans and snuffboxes. In making a visit to this imposing edifice, another not-to-be-missed opportunity is a breathtaking array of paintings by
Albert Lebourg and
Camille Pisarro and etchings by
Georges Braque. Classical music lovers can visit an exhibit of the works and personal belongings of world-renowned composer
Another cliff side vantage point is a church built to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives at sea. The Chapelle Notre Dame de Bonsecours provides a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of the port, where the weary tourist can spend time taking a relaxed view of model ships and memorials to the crews of vessels destroyed by storms at sea. There is even a nearby café where the visitor can take shelter from stiff cliff top breezes.
For a trip into the past, a visit to Dieppe's Quartier de Pollet, with its winding lanes, narrow flights of stairs and stone fisherman's cottages, harks back to simpler times when a strong back and ancient skills passed down from generation to generation provided a modest living for mariners casting their nets into the waters of the Channel.
Back in the town centre, night-time action revolves around Dieppe's Partouche Casino where tourists who feel lucky can try their hand at blackjack or roulette and possibly win back the cost of their vacation. A word of caution though - there is much truth to the adage that the way to leave a casino with a small fortune is to go there with a big fortune!
A wiser choice might be to keep what remains of the travel budget safely tucked away and take in the casino's cabaret or live theatre productions.
More passive pursuits include a stroll along the wide promenade on the ' waterfront or a vigorous walk on the pebbled beach. If this works up an appetite - and it will - there are many sidewalk restaurants and bistros where hearty Norman fare as well as Dieppe's specialty - fresh scallops offloaded from Channel trawlers that morning - are on the menu. And what better way to finish off the meal than with a cheese tray featuring local Camembert and other delicacies washed down with the regional apple brandy known as
Saturday is market day in Dieppe where local farmers set up stalls overflowing with wheels of cheese and freshly-picked vegetables - as well as baskets and barrels of apples from nearby orchards. After a morning of hard bargaining, shoppers celebrate their good fortune by sipping a local beer or coffee augmented with a glass of the fiery Calvados at one of the many open-air cafés.
Seafood lovers visiting Dieppe in mid-November will find themselves in culinary heaven where the annual Herring Festival fills the salty air with the heady aroma of barbecued fish. Colourful stalls and friendly hawkers of this bounty from the sea make the visit all the more memorable. The small delicacies are served in paper cones with a dash of lemon and can be crunched during a leisurely stroll in the festive atmosphere.
Once every two years in September, the brisk winds blowing in from the Channel provide the power for contestants from all over the world to show their kite-flying skills in the
Festival International de Cerf-Volant. The next exhibition of this aerobatic art is scheduled to take place in 2014.
Any Canadian with a sense of history and pride of country is overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection and gratitude of the townspeople for the sacrifice made by members of the
2nd Canadian Infantry Division. In fact, one of the downtown streets was renamed the Rue du Dix-Neuf Août 1942 after the Second World War to commemorate the abortive raid of that date. In addition, Canadian flags fly throughout the town year-round and there are a number of plaques and well-kept gardens honouring those killed or captured in the assault.
Just how grateful the townspeople are to Canadians was demonstrated during a recent trip to Dieppe. Our motor coach arrived there on Easter Sunday morning when the Operation Jubilee Memorial Museum would normally have been closed. But when our guide telephoned ahead to say a busload of Canadians would be arriving, two members of the museum's voluntary staff, Marcel Diologent and Daniel Jaspart, roused themselves from what should have been a holiday late sleep-in and opened the building for us - even providing refreshments hastily prepared by other museum volunteers.
And how unfortunate it would have been if we hadn't been given the chance to view the exhibits and watch a post-war documentary featuring actual footage of the Dieppe Raid and interviews with veterans who had survived the slaughter and returned on later pilgrimages. The museum is housed in the old municipal theatre boasting an ornate décor that once reverberated to the melodious sounds of such visiting artists as piano virtuoso and composer
Franz Liszt. While it might seem incongruous to have an exhibition commemorating a bloody battle housed within the tranquil walls of a building that once showcased that talents of some of Europe's finest musicians, it seemed only fitting that the souls of those who died trying to liberate the town should rest here.
But there is a modern-day battle where the citizens of Dieppe could use the help of their Canadian friends once again. The Operation Jubilee Memorial Association is made up of volunteers who require financial assistance to upgrade the current exhibit and perhaps even move their operations to larger and more modern premises. Anyone wishing to contribute to this worthwhile cause can obtain more information on the web at:
Perhaps the best way to describe the emotional ties between Canadians and the townspeople of Dieppe would be to quote from the memoirs of Canadian Press war correspondent Ross Munro, OBE, OC. In Gauntlet to Overlord, Munro described how the Allies rolled into Rouen after the successful D-Day landings in Normandy.
"Columns of carriers and half-tracks, tanks and guns and hundreds of trucks filled with fighting men passed down the wide thoroughfares lined with ecstatic French people offering a wild, prolonged welcome. But the 2nd Division could not tarry. It had a rendezvous with history 40 miles (64 kilometres) away...
...On the outskirts of Rouen, the highway forks - left to Le Havre, right to Dieppe. A crowd watched the Canadians wheel to the right. 'Ca, c'est bien!' they shouted. 'Les Canadiens s'en vont à Dieppe.' (That's wonderful! The Canadians are going to Dieppe)...
... At 10:30 a.m. on September 1st, they entered Dieppe. The Germans had gone, had fled even as they approached. Instead of bullets and blood, Dieppe gave the Canadians flowers and wine. A delirious population poured into the streets to shout that the town was free."
In 1942 Joseph Stalin began to put pressure on Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt to open a second front in Europe. They were unwilling to carry out a large offensive but it was agreed to carry out an experiment in an amphibious assault on the coast of France.
In April 1942 General Bernard Montgomery and Admiral Louis Mountbatten began to plan the invasion. It was originally due to take place in July but bad weather resulted in it being postponed until August.
On 19th August 1942 a small mixed force of 5,000 Canadian and 1,000 British troops landed at Dieppe. They immediately came under attack from German troops led by General Kurt Zeitzler. Within a few hours 4,000 of the men were either killed, wounded or captured.
Allied commanders later claimed that valuable military information was gained from the Dieppe Raid. This included the need for more sophisticated amphibious equipment and techniques. However, some historians have questioned the purpose of the raid, claiming that this lessons learned from the failed raid could have been predicted and the lives of brave soldiers had been wasted for no good reason.
It was also claimed that the use of Canadian soldiers for the raid suggested that Allied commanders saw Commonwealth troops as more expendable than those in the British Army.
A port on the English Channel, famous for its scallops, and with a regular ferry service from the Gare Maritime to Newhaven in England, Dieppe also has a popular pebbled beach, a 15th-century castle and the churches of Saint-Jacques and Saint-Remi.
The inhabitants of the town of Dieppe are called Dieppois (m) and Dieppoise (f) in French.
The Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee), planned by Admiral Lord Mountbatten, consisted of 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British troops, and 50 United States Rangers; while a complete failure was a tremendous benchmark learned for subsequent landings in North Africa (Operation Torch) and Normandy (Operation Overlord - D-Day).