"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

The sacrifice of the soldier

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I’ve been preparing for a short (6 day) battlefield tour with my family. I realize how important these teaching moments are, particularly for my daughter and her best friend – who are on their first visit to Europe to look at battlefields. There is something about walking the ground upon which the battle took place that brings the reality, and the sanctity of the moment, to real life.

I’ve set out what I consider the big, must-see sites for a Canadian: Normandy, Dieppe, Ypres, Vimy, Hill 62, Vancouver Corner (St Julien memorial), Essex Farm Cemetery (where John McCrae is reputed to have written In Flander’s Fields) and the Royal Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont Hamel. We will see a number of other sites, but those are the essential ones to gain some understanding of the Canadian contribution to the two World Wars.

In my preparations, I read a recent book by David O’Keefe, a Canadian history professor, documenting some 15 years of research into the real reason behind the Dieppe raid. This was permitted by the British declassifying of many Ultra Secret documents from WW II, many of which are still classified.

I won’t ruin all of the things he uncovered, but he makes a compelling case that the entire Dieppe raid was a ruse to distract attention from the real mission: to allow 30 IAU (Intelligence Assault Unit) to sail into the Dieppe harbour, assault a German naval HQ, with the goal of stealing crypto materials, and in particular one of the new 4-rotor Enigma cipher devices.

His case is very compelling, and explains a number of things that historians have always puzzled over. I’ve always wondered about the task of the Essex Scottish Reg’t to suppress the harbour defences that fired into the harbour. It seemed unusual given the attack plan. O’Keefe has also discovered that Commander Ian Fleming was on a ship off-shore during the raid, which suggests there was something important going on.

The raid was ultimately a failure for the intelligence mission, and the outcome of the rest is known too well.

Now, back to the question of sacrifice. Soldiers, almost universally, are willing to undertake highly hazardous missions, even those with a certainty of death, if they understand the reason behind the action. One source of anger around Dieppe, for decades, has been the thought that this was a pointless raid that was badly mismanaged.

O’Keefe took his results and presented them to the few surviving Dieppe vets he could find (including the one remaining soldier from 30 IAU). One gentleman began to cry and said something like, I finally understand why my friends had to die – it wasn’t a wasted effort.

Interesting how the bringing of the reason for the raid, so long hidden, brings peace to those warriors. It says something significant about the character of the soldier.


Written by sameo416

April 30, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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