Dad's Navy Days, 1941 - 1945
By G. A. Harrison
Introduction: The following post will be part of a Nov. 2016 presentation regarding my father's WW2 service with the RCNVR and Combined Operations organization.
Though my father missed participating in the Dieppe raid - due to being on leave - he was affected by that first deadly-serious encounter with the enemy on the shores of France. He reflects on the action in hand-written memoirs in 1975 and in a submission to a Combined Ops book produced by veterans (St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War 1941 - 1945, Volume 1) in the mid-1990s.
Part 5 - Concerning the Dieppe Raid - Operation Jubilee, August 19, 1942
The next one (i.e., the second attempted raid on Dieppe) on August 19, 1942 should have been aborted too. I wasn’t there because I was on leave but came back early (because, though I didn’t know where, I knew there was a raid coming) and was in position to see the Duke of Wellington carrying barges, my oppo and other buddies to Dieppe and certain death for the soldiers. There was a mishap before they even got to sea, i.e., soldiers were readying hand grenades and one somehow exploded and four were killed and many injured. It was an ill omen.
Doug Harrison's hand-written notes from the 1970s, or earlier
Much has been written about Dieppe so I will not enlarge upon it too much. My opinion is - it was a senseless waste of blood. The Germans were ready because we (i.e., the Allies) ran into a German convoy in the channel. The element of surprise was lost. The times of arrival at beaches were to be during the night, but some turned out to land in full daylight up against cliffs unable in any way to be scaled. No softening up of defences by bombing was ever carried out. I will make it short and say I will remember it as a complete, useless waste of good Canadian blood and no one - even those who say we learned a valuable lesson there - will ever change my mind. No mock raids were held, as for St. Nazaire against home defences. It was simply a mess.
I lost my first comrades at Dieppe. Others were wounded. O/S Kavanaugh - killed. O/S Jack McKenna - killed. A/B Lloyd Campbell, London, Ontario died of wounds after his legs were nearly cut off by machine gun fire. Imagine Higgins boats made of 3/4 inch plywood going in on a beach like that.
Lt. McRae became a POW at Dieppe, 1942.
Photo credit - St. Nazaire to Singapore: Volume 1
Lieutenant McRae, our commander, Stoker Brown, and others I can’t recall were taken prisoner. And lots of people don’t even know Canada’s navy was represented at Dieppe. (The only other comrade I lost was Coxswain Owens, the man who left me stranded that night in Irvine. He was killed in North Africa, our next safari).
I was on leave at Calshot Camp in Southampton at the time, but was asked to go and clean up ALCs as they struggled back from Dieppe. I absolutely refused. I was so incensed I also refused to go to church there. I went to the door but never went in.
Nothing became of my refusals. In fact, I went through the war without one mark against my record.
Lt. Robert McRae also submitted a story to St. Nazaire to Singapore about his experience at Dieppe. An excerpt follows:
Dieppe: The Landing
Toronto made me, Dieppe undid me;
26, RCNVR, ordinary seaman to lieutenant
by '42, RN destroyers and mine-sweepers
in the North Sea, then from May the same year
hitched up to a new RCN flotilla
learning Combined Operations, 100 men, 15 sub-lieutenants
working our butts off up in Scotland making landings
in anything that floated - then in August ordered to Southampton
where persuasive talkers wanting men and boats
for a mystery job took us in hook, line and sinker,
our officers and men sprinkled through the fleet,
not going in as a unit, the price to be paid
for a chance at some close in action....
McRae goes on to write vividly about arriving off the French coast in a small R-boat at about 7:30 AM, August 19, 1942. He passed through a smoke screen to confront the foe. Machine gun fire greeted him.
Coming out on the other side (of the smoke screen)
with a full view now of the coast,
we found we were fatally headed toward the beach
under the steep cliffs.
to the right side of the town instead of the town front,
with the ominous heads of the enemy clearly visible
lined along the top of the cliffs. And now they began to pour
machine-gun fire down into the boats. In our craft, Campbell,
who was at the wheel, received a line of bullets across his thighs
(later as a POW he lost his legs to amputation
and died before Christmas from gangrene).
Cavanagh, standing beside him, was shot in the chest,
and died an hour later thrashing in torment while his lungs filled up.
My third crewman, Brown, took something in the stomach
that damaged him for the rest of his life. But although wounded,
he took over Campbell's place at the wheel,
and for this action received a gallantry award
after the war. As it was my place to stand
behind the man at the wheel,
Campbell had stopped the machine-gun bullets
I might otherwise have received....
From pages 61 - 62