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Dieppe Raid an important moment in Sarnia’s military history

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Tom St. Amand and Tom Slater

Seventy-five years ago this week Sarnia’s John Hewitt emerged a survivor from one of the darkest chapters in Canadian military history — the Dieppe Raid.

He later described “machine gun bullets splattering against the steel side of our landing barge” and their “overwhelming and absolute fear.

“But it had to be done,” he said. “And we were there.”

Hewitt was one of least 36 Sarnians who challenged the German army that morning in northern France. Some were wounded, others imprisoned and one, Sapper Glyn Jones, lost his life in battle.

They fought against staggering odds and when it finally ended, the Dieppe Raid stayed with them their entire lives.

A convoy of 6,000 troops, mostly Canadians, had left England the night before for the port town of Dieppe. The plan was to arrive in the dark the morning of Aug. 19th, 1942 and land at five different points on a 16-kilometre stretch of shoreline.

Most of the Sarnians were deployed in two battalions that landed on the town’s main beach.

Recently declassified documents reveal the Dieppe Raid was designed to capture German documents, code books, and an Enigma encryption machine.

It was also a test run for the future Allied invasion of Europe. And though D-Day was still two years away, its success was built on Canadian blood spilled at Dieppe.

For months the Germans had fortified the port with dense barbed wire and concrete barriers. Machine guns, mortars and artillery were strategically positioned on cliff walls to saturate the beach with deadly fire.

Delays caused the Canadians to land in the light of early dawn to an already alerted enemy. One can only imagine the fear they felt and the horrors they faced when the landing craft doors swung open.

“We were,” as one soldier put it, “at the mercy of God and the Germans.”

When the commanders called a retreat around 11 a.m. the water and beach were stained red and strewn with slain Canadians and disabled tanks.

In those few hours some very brave Sarnians left their mark at Dieppe.

Men like Lieutenant Arthur Hueston. As machinegun fire laced the beach Hueston refused to seek refuge. Instead, he threw off his equipment and rescued soldiers floundering in the water, and then returned to the beach to pick up his gun and ammunition.

And Lieutenant Bill Ewener, who was shot in the chest just above the heart, causing part of his left lung to collapse. Ignoring calls for a medic, Ewener picked up the equipment of another wounded man and continued the attack. He organized a demolition party and tried to cross the beach and esplanade under withering heavy machine gun fire.

And Lance Corporal John Molyneax “Red” Fisher who, despite being hobbled by a shrapnel-torn right foot, led a charge that took out a machine gun nest that was systematically killing Canadians.

And Sapper John Stevens. He left the beach on a landing craft but a dive-bomber sank it. A destroyer rescued his group of Canadians clinging to debris, but an enemy bomber sank the destroyer itself. Stevens, with most of his left ankle and calf blown away, managed to swim until a submarine chaser pulled him aboard.

Arthur Hueston was taken a prisoner of war. Bill Ewener became the first Sarnian of the Second World War awarded the Military Cross. Red Fisher received the Military Medal from King George VI. And, in 1943, John Stevens became the first Dieppe survivor to return to Sarnia.

Not one ever forgot Dieppe. May the people of Sarnia never forget them.

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Sapper Jones buried at Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery

Tom St. Amand and Tom Slater

Nearly 5,000 Canadians fought at the Dieppe Raid and fewer than half returned to England.

Almost 2,000 were captured and 900 killed. Sarnia’s Glyn Jones was one of the latter.

Jones grew up on Cromwell Street, attending Lochiel Street School and SCITS. Before enlisting, he was a parishioner at Central United Church and worked as a mechanic at a local service station.

In September of 1939, the 18-year-old enlisted in the Army with his brother, Edward, and joined the Royal Canadian Engineers.

Jones arrived in the UK the following year with the First Field Company and received another 18 months of training.  His unit’s first action was at Dieppe.

He was a sapper, or combat engineer, charged with building roads and bridges and laying and clearing mines.

How he died isn’t known. His widowed mother received a letter stating: “Your son was killed in action against the enemy.”

Another letter told Annie Jones her son’s remains were buried in Des Vertus Hautot-Sur-Mer, France, in Grave 160. She received a War Service Gratuity of $488.64 as compensation.

The Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery is unique among Commonwealth cemeteries because it was constructed by the occupying Germans, who laid out the headstones by placing them back-to-back in long double rows.

It remains that way to this day.

Inscribed on Glyn Jones’ headstone are the words: “’Come ye bought, but not with gold, welcome to the sacred fold.’ With love, Mam.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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