Another quick breakfast as the buses will leave at 08:30. We aren’t sure if public are included. When we arrive, everyone appears to be in some sort of formal dress. Just in case, we’ve brought our Jubilee Association name tags, but we don’t need them, everyone is welcome. Our first stop is Pourville, where the South Saskatchewan and Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders landed.
The local citizens surround the ceremonial area and various military regiments and Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal band set up beside the church where the ceremonies are to be conducted.
Memorial made from bronze taken from the beach after the raid
Eventually the dignitaries and officials arrive and the commemoration begins. The Governor-General David Johnston inspects the troops
and the speeches begin. Johanne reminds me several times that the Canadian Ambassador to France, Lawrence Cannon is also present. The Honourable Steven Blaney puts tears in my eyes when towards the end of his speech, his voice quivers, and his tears flow as he speaks of the raid and acknowledges the brave veterans seated in front of the memorial.
The Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Veteran Affairs
The Fusiliers band plays and the tears are now flowing freely including the two couples we met on our first day from Winnipeg. Once the laying of wreaths and playing of national anthems are complete, we move down to the beach and assemble near a small bridge. It was here in 1942 Lieutenant Colonel Merritt and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada attempted to cross the Scie River to reach their objective.
Leaving the church grounds
Bridge over the Scie river
We follow the parade as it moves along the promenade by the sea wall and stops for one more salute.
Johanne is chatting with the veterans and some of the locals when I notice that there are more officials and dignitaries than public. We head back to the main street and our bus. The street is empty! I ask a gendarme where the buses are parked. He says they left 10 minutes ago – ahead of the veterans, band, dignitaries, etc. because they are behind schedule on the agenda. Responding to our predicament, he arranges travel for us – one of the elected officials offers us a ride. When we get to the next stop on our agenda, Varangeville, Johanne says “there’s our buses!”. The official says we are too late for the ceremony and he wants to be early for the next town so we head straight to Sainte Marguerite-sur Mer. Unfortunately we missed the ceremony commemorating the only successful operation! We arrive well before the rest of the entourage and stake out prime spots to view the ceremony coincidentally near the memorial honouring the No 4 British Commando unit that attacked Varangeville.
We have plenty of time to talk to the locals, who have been waiting for some time for the delegation. Everyone is so passionate about their local history. Young children, teenagers, and older people who were probably just kids when the raid took place surround the cordoned off area. When they see that we are Canadian they are very interested in our story. “You came all the way from Canada to be here? Thank you!” It brought tears to our eyes. The officials finally arrive and the site fills with our people from the buses.
A small French military band replaces the Fusiliers’ band
and the ceremonies begin with speeches, wreath laying, and national anthems. The French sing theirs with gusto and pride.
We then move to an old brick building that has numerous plaques acknowledging the No 4 Commando.
More speeches, wreaths and anthems. A child stood on a wall above the crowd waving her own little flag.
When the ceremony ended, Johanne gave the little boy a poppy and I took their photo with their handmade flags. Remembering 19 August 1942 is in genes of the French people!
Our next stop is a reception with petit canapés and champagne for everyone. I break out a sandwich I prepared at breakfast. People passing me search the spread for similar, substantial handouts, but désolé, there are none. Johanne spots two young men holding large books. She approaches them and notices that one of them has the Fusiliers emblem on his jacket and the other has the Cameron Highlanders crest. She finds out that they are French citizens but are Fusiliers and Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders representatives (Mathieu Masson and Frederick Jeanne respectively). She asks them where they got the beautiful book on Dieppe and they tell her that they wrote it with 2 other historians. Sure enough their pictures are on the back cover! Well that was it for Johanne – you couldn’t drag her away. There they were comparing notes and photographs from my book. He told her that she should be able to buy it at small bookstore in Dieppe. They had so much to talk about that Mathieu Masson, the Fusiliers representative decided to meet us on out next agenda stop at Envermeu at 4:00pm. The bus arrived back at Dieppe city hall at 2:15 and we had less than 1 hr to freshen up, look for the book on Dieppe, pick up something to eat (Johanne had been so busy talking to Mathieu that she forgot to eat at the reception) and get back to the bus by 3:15 pm. When we get off the bus we make like Usain Bolt.