The study of Canada's roll in World War Two began in the Upper Normandy region of France, on the rocky shore of Dieppe. The Dieppe raid of August 19, 1942 was Canada's first action in the Second World War and a costly one. The decision to mount the ill fated raid is still a hotly contested one among historians and a question posed to the trip's students prior to their arrival in France.
Before entering the city the previous evening the group stopped at Puys, or Blue beach, where the Royal Regiment of Canada had landed. Puys always makes me sad as there is no mistaking what the young boys encountered when they pulled into the bay thirty minutes behind schedule to face an enemy on full alert commanding the high ground. The regiment was decimated suffering 200 men killed and another 264 captured in the span of a few hours. Whenever I go to Puys all I see is the images of those young men, dead piled up against the sea wall seeking cover where there was none to be found.
The day began on the main beach at Dieppe, White and Red beach, where students stopped at various monuments and discussed the experiences of the regiments that fought there. In the afternoon the group visited the Dieppe Canadian Military Cemetery in Hautot-sur-Mer where the dead from August 19 were respectfully buried after the battle.
We then traveled to the heights of Dieppe to better understand the tactically superior position the Germans hand over raiding Canadians. Then it was onto Green beach at Pourville to discuss the successful landing and disastrous withdrawal there. The day ended off with a a visit to the landing site of No. 4 Commando group, a tiny beach near Varengeville-sur-mer. A trip I had never made before.
In the evening after a group dinner I led students out to the beach at Dieppe for a toast. The tradition was begun, for me at least, with my first trip to France under the guidance of Dr. Geoff Hayes. Dieppe usually comes at the mid point in the trip and is the divider between he First and Second World Wars, so it offers a excellent opportunity for students to gather, reflect and make a tost to their experience thus far. Almost all of the students decided to join and even Terry and Linda Copp came out to make a tost with my crappy 6 € wine.
All in all it was a emotionally powerful day and enjoyable evening.
EDIT - I was kindly reminded Dieppe is not the first action of Canadians in World War Two, Hong Kong was in 1941.