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Canadian veterans in France to mark 80th anniversary of disastrous Dieppe Raid

80 years ago today, more than 5,000 Canadian soldiers were sent onto the beaches
Members of the Royal Canadian Medical Corps evacuate Allied soldiers from the beach after the Dieppe, France, raid during the Second World War. THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadian flags hang alongside those of the French and British on the streets of Dieppe, France, each August as the city marks the anniversary of an important and disastrous day during the Second World War.

Eighty years ago today, more than 5,000 Canadian soldiers were sent onto the beaches in an attempt to breach the occupied town from the sea.

Among them was 20-year-old Gordon Fennell, a member of the Calgary Tanks regiment, who has returned this week to commemorate the battle in which more than 900 Canadians died.

Fennell is one of the very few remaining survivors of Operation Jubilee, one of the best-known and deadliest events of the entire war for Canada.

The mayor of Dieppe, Nicolas Langlois, presented a medal to Fennell during a commemoration ceremony in the city today.

Of the more than one million Canadians who served during the war, it’s estimated about 20,000 are still alive today, and their average age is 95.

Historian Mike Bechthold says it’s more important than ever to hear their stories and honour their sacrifices.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Dieppe raid was one of the most difficult and tragic days of the Second World War for Canada.

He says the objective of the Canadian soldiers, along with their British and American allies, was to test the enemy’s defences, damage its port facilities and gather important intelligence to help defeat Nazi Germany.

“Unfortunately, the Canadian soldiers who came ashore were met with sustained enemy fire, and only a few small groups of Canadians managed to reach the streets of Dieppe,” Trudeau says in a statement.

In the air, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the British Royal Air Force continued the offensive, but after nine hours of intense fighting were forced to retreat and return to Britain, he says.

He says in addition to those wounded or killed, some 1,946 were taken as prisoners of war and most remained captive until the end of the war.

Despite this devastating setback, Canadian and Allied soldiers showed exceptional heroism, resilience and courage and the raid was instrumental in leading the Allies to victory over Nazi Germany, he says.

“On this day, we pay tribute to the thousands of Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice at Dieppe,” Trudeau says.

“Lest we forget.”

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