Friday, 19 August 2016


For several years I worked for the Aylmer Express. While it was a small town newspaper, it was also a commercial printer. (The division I worked for.) The newspaper was bought by Arthur Hueston, after he came home from the war, and was its publisher for many years and turned it into a thriving printing company. By the point I got there, his son had been running the company for many years, and he was just writing a weekly column, some of which touched on his experiences in WW2. He served with the Essex Scottish Regiment, as a platoon leader, at Dieppe. He was quite open about his experiences and once we sat and talked about it. 

He was on a landing craft with a Churchill tank, that ground to a halt on the potato sized stones on the beach, leaving it half in and half out of the craft. They were meant to follow it, but with no way around it, they had to go over the sides. With no one having come ashore before the landings to ascertain the unsuitability of the beach for tanks, no one had bothered to check that there was a deep drop right at the waters edge, not a gradual incline. His platoon dropped over the edge of the landing craft and he lost about a third to drowning, because they were so laden down or unable to swim. The ones that survived had to ditch most of their gear to come up again. On shore without weapons, ammo, etc. they couldn’t do much. With a whole bunch of men wounded or dead, his superiors yelled at him to get back on a boat and get out. No one would have though any less of him if he had, but he called back “No. I have wounded men I need to look after.” And with that, he languished for years in a POW camp, hungry and bored.

It was a good thing he needed a really powerful magnifying glass to read, so he couldn’t see me wiping away the tears. 

The Germans found documents after the raid, from the Canadians, stating that German prisoners were to be handcuffed until they got them back to England. As a reprisal against the Canadians they forced any that were captured at Dieppe to wear handcuffs all day. At morning roll call they were put on and at nighttime roll call they were removed. Of course, as soon as they got back to their barracks they quickly picked them and as long as they were inside, they went without them.

And the city I currently live in, one of its regiments, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry suffered casualties at Dieppe as well. Of the 582 soldiers who landed that morning, 197 were killed, 174 were captured and 194 wounded (including 85 also captured). Only 102 were not among the casualties.

Never forget.


  1. The stories that that generation has (or many of them anyway, many also never left canada much less served) never cease to astound me. I recently read a book by a Canadian naval officer during the war (A Bloody War) who at one time had a captain who was in his twenties.

    Hard to imagine many twenty somethings nowadays being capable of such things. I know they exist as I've had friends who've seen them firsthand but my personal experience with this generation is different. Hopefully we can avoid finding out for real.

    1. If there was a zombie apocalypse, there would quickly be zombie rights groups.

      I toured the Haida, and there is a display and write-up about the night their sister ship, the Athabaska was torpedoed. The part about the captain having to make the call to leave as dawn approached, even though lots of their brothers were still in the water – man oh man. No one would fault him for doing so, it was the tactically sound decision, but jesus.... I can't even begin to imagine what every man on that ship felt, and the burden he had to carry for the rest of his life.

  2. A Bloody War has similar descriptions about having to sail past survivors in the water following submarine attacks early in the war. Chilling but they were desperate times. Actual desperate times, not the possibility that in 100 years the average global temperature might be 1/2 a degree higher than what someone imagines it should be.

    That generation (as well as our current vets) kept a lot of their horrors to themselves, understandably I guess, but I think it was to all of our detriment. We have it so easy, comparatively speaking, that it is hard, I think, for many people to imagine how bad things could be, as though war is something from the past and now we just need to focus on meaningless minutiae to craft the perfect society. I guess we'll never learn.

    I visited Dieppe in the early 2000's and after about 1 second in a German bunker overlooking the beach I wondered what the hell we we thinking? It was about as close to a literal shooting gallery as you could get. And the beach? It was hard to walk on it much less drive a tank. Such a tragic waste but just a blip in the greater tragedy that resulted from the ineptitude of much of our leadership at the time. Do we have better leaders today?