Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

France honours Canadian vets

Seven visit the scene of key battle

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DIEPPE, France -- A handful of Canadian veterans were treated to a heroes' welcome Sunday when they returned to the French coastal town of Dieppe to mark the 70th anniversary of one of the bloodiest and most disastrous raids of the Second World War.

Thousands of people lined the streets to greet the seven veterans, now all in their 90s, who are in northwest France to attend the ceremonies.

The veterans, many now using wheelchairs or walking canes, wore red poppies to pay their respects to their 900 comrades killed within hours after 5,000 Canadian troops stormed the beaches of German-occupied Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942.

Under grey, foggy skies, local residents, along with the French military and other government officials, honoured the few returning veterans. Canadian flags could be seen flying in windows and outside buildings as people stopped to applaud and shake the hands of the wartime heroes. The veterans were obviously moved. Many had tears in their eyes.

Canadian Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney was also visibly moved. "It goes to your heart," Blaney said. "I'm speechless and overwhelmed by the emotion we can feel here in Dieppe today."

Roman Wozniak flew a Spitfire over the beaches of Dieppe that day. "We had no problem in the air," said the 93-year-old Vancouver man. "We did get six that day, and we lost three."

Wozniak felt the deadly battle was largely forgotten. "It was sort of swept under the rug and very little was said about it," he said.

Arthur Rossell, with the Essex Scottish Regiment, was wounded during the raid and was in a coma for 18 days, spending several months in hospital.

Sunday's visit was his first return to Dieppe since the raid. He said Allies were unprepared for the desperate conditions of Dieppe.

"The beaches of Dieppe are just a mass of little stones, and that was a handicap," said Rossell, 92, of Brampton, Ont. "You stumbled over everything."

Gov. Gen. David Johnston, the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces, said it was no doubt a difficult day of remembrance for the veterans.

"In the raid on Dieppe -- and indeed throughout the Second World War -- Canadians paid a very high price," Johnston said.

"The veterans of Dieppe understand the enormity of that sacrifice in a way that few, if any, of us can truly comprehend."

Canadians killed in Dieppe remain there in the Canadian war cemetery. When the town was liberated two years after the raid, the Allies decided to not disturb the graves, which were put there by the Germans.

There has been considerable debate over the years about the justification for the raid. Some Allied military leaders said the lessons learned from the disaster saved countless lives during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2012 A8

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