Local men were honoured for their courage and sacrifice as more than 200 people gathered Sunday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid.
The ceremony was part of the 82nd annual Decoration Day at Omega Cemetery near Gadsby.
Jack Chapman, Stan Edwards, Raymond Gilbert and Bill Stewart are the only Stettler-area veterans involved in that incident who are still alive today. They’re members of the Royal Canadian Legion.
More than 30 Stettler-area veterans were involved in the Second World War Allied attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe on the northern cost of France on Aug. 19, 1942.
“This day brings back memories — they weren’t fond memories,” said Stettler resident Mabel Wigley, whose husband Bill was a prisoner of war for years and eight months, and died this past May at age 91.
Although the Dieppe Raid took place across the ocean, it brought the tragedy of war close to home for the communities of Stettler, Erskine, Botha, Gadsby and Big Valley, as those areas had the highest percentage of post-Dieppe prisoners of war of any centre in Canada.
Most of the Stettler and area men fought with the 14th Calgary Tank Regiment, as the raid recorded 3,367 Canadian Army casualties of 907 dead and 1,946 prisoners of war.
Just more than a half of the 417 members of the Calgary Tank Regiment who embarked for Dieppe returned.
For Canada, Dieppe was one of the darkest days of war.
Born in Castor, Bill Wigley was among several men in the region who were involved in the raid.
“It was two weeks after everyone else knew about their relatives that I heard about my husband, that he was a prisoner of war,” Mabel Wigley recalled.
“You can’t image what that was like. You just wait and wait.”
Touched by the 1942 event and the ceremony this past Sunday, Wigley’s daughter hopes the lives and sacrifices of those men of war will live on forever.
“It’s very important that we don’t forget,” said Star Cunningham. “It was a huge sacrifice for Canadians.”
A third generation has also been influenced by the service of a war veteran. Jim Ganshirt’s daughter, Barb Carey, is part of the Omega Circle.
“In memory of my grandpa, he asked all of his children and grandchildren to join the Legion,” said Joanna Jarmin.
“And he went as far as to fill out the membership forms and copies of his discharge papers.”
A prisoner-of-war from Red Deer agreed that the sacrifices of war remain alive, even though life is always at stake when the troops enter the battlefield.
“You never know what’s going to happen you’re in war,” said Tommy Baker, now 88.
Wreaths were laid by Mable Wigley and daughter Star Cunningham for prisoners of war, Irene Brown for Motherhood of the Nation, Tom (Alan) Coultis for the Government of Alberta, Rose Lincoln for the Alberta/NWT Command of the Ladies Auxiliary, Violet Holdal for the Alberta/NWT Command to the Royal Canadian Legion, Stettler branch president Murray Wahlund, Big Valley president Bill Melnyk, Castor president Ray Marquart, Tommy Baker for the Dominion Command of Canada, Phyllis Robinson and her daughter for Omega Circle, and Todd Wright for Canadian Army veterans.
Details of the Dieppe Raid were retold by guest speaker Brett Clifton, 21, a grandson of prisoner-of-war Bill Clffton, who has roots in Lethbridge and battled with many of the Stettler veterans.
“As we take a moment to remember those who have passed and honour those who are still with us, I feel it is important to acknowledge that they are and always will be more than just one day in history,” Brett Clifton said.
“They were ordinary men who were part of an extraordinary event in Canadian history, but they were also our loved ones — sons, husbands, fathers, brothers and grandfathers. We are all lucky to be a part of their lives.”
It wasn’t until 1994, with the issuance of the Dieppe Bar, that the Dieppe veterans were honoured for their contribution to the Second World War.
“As we honour all Canadians who served, especially our beloved members of the Calgary Tank Regiment, we will remember them for the sum of their lives and for those of us who are their family and friends,” Brett Clifton said.
“On behalf of all Canadians, we simply say thank you.”
REMEMBERING DIEPPE … THE LOCAL SACRIFICE
Lt. Jack Dunlap
Sgt. Tommy Cunningham
Sgt. Harry Patrick
Sgt. Ronnie Lee
Col. Charlie Heck
Tpr. Bill Wigley
Tpr. Lawrence Herzog
Tpr. John Cox
Tpr. Elmer Taylor
Tpr. Clive Staples (died while being held prisoner)
Tpr. Lloyd Johnstone
Tpr. Harold Stanfield
Tpr. Archie McIntyre
Tpr. George Hailes
Tpr. Vern Richardson
Tpr. Emil Dannewald
Tpr. Ray Gilbert
Tpr. Roy Lincoln
Tpr. Charlie Blaney
Tpr. Clarence Blaney
Tpr. Bob Nelson
Tpr. Rhinard Cornelssen (killed in action)
Tpr. Jack Rithcie
Tpr. Albert Johnson
Tpr. Harold Rutherford
Tpr. H. Embree
Tpr. Elly Raskin
Tpr. A (Shorty) Heffer
Tpr. Carl Morrison
Tpr. Earl Snider
Tpr. Forbes Morton
Tpr. Len Strovold
Tpr. Bob Sharpe
Tpr. Oliver O’Hara
Tpr. Eddy Kastik
Tpr. Roy Nelson
Tpr. Stan Welty
Tpr. Kelly Haner
Tpr. Albert Blauer
Tpr. Stan Edwards
Lt. Dick Wallace
Sgt. Jerry Menzies
Sgt. Frank Bevan
Sgt. Bill Ollive
Tpr. Bill Stewart
Tpr. Jim Ganshirt
Tpr. Jim Horne
Tpr. Jack Chapman
Tpr. Albert Chick
Tpr. Robert Andersen
Tpr. Johnny Welsh (died while being held prisoner)