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(Posted 7:30 a.m., Nov. 20)
Vet with local ties recalls ill-fated raid on Dieppe
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Former Orléans resident Syd Davie was 19-years-old when he participated in the raid on on August 19, 1942. Of the 6,100 men who particpated in the battle, he was one of the 2,400 who managed to return to England without getting captured or killed. Fred Sherwin/Photo

It's been 75 years since Syd Davie climbed on board a troop ship as part of a joint allied strike force of more than 6,000 men assigned to carry out a raid on the French port of Dieppe.

While the lion's share of the force was Canadian, they were supported on either flank by British Commandos.

A member of a top secret special forces unit, Davie's mission was to find a communications installation near the town of Varangeville which is situated to the west of Dieppe and blow it up with the aid of German POWs turned scouts who knew the area.

Davie's first memory of the raid was getting sick on the first part of the voyage across the channel. The troops departed from England shortly after midnight on August 19, 1942 and arrived eight miles off the French coast at 3 a.m. where they transferred to amphibious landing craft.

The majority of the soldiers on the landing craft with Davie were members of the Royal Marines No. 4 Commando unit assigned to take out a naval battery to the west of Dieppe. After chugging along for about an hour and half in choppy water, the Germans started firing at the landing craft with their big guns.

"I could hear the first heavy shell passing over our heads and exploding just beyond us. Then the second one landed a little closer. Finally, the third one was a direct hit on the stern and blew the bridge away," says Davie. "One minute the bosun was there and the next he was gone."

Through all the shelling the ramp operator remained standing in an upright position on the corner of the landing craft with his hand held high in the air waiting to give the signal to lower the ramp and disembark.

With the stern of the landing craft already blown away, a mortar shell landed near the back and further disabled the vessel. At that point the ramp operater dropped the ramp to allow as many men to get off as possible before they were hit by another shell. The day was just dawning when Davie hit the water.

"We were still a long way off from the beach so I knew I was going to have to swim," says Davie. "Once I was in the water nothing seem to be going on. I mean they were still shooting at us, but it didn't seem to be as bad as it was on the boat."

When he finally made it to the beach it was obvious from everything going on around him that they were never going to achieve they're objective. It was only afterwards that he found out that instead of landing on the right flank with the rest of No. 3 Commando, they had landed on the left flank near the heavily fortified town of Puys with elements of the Royal Regiment of Canada.

The following is a historical account of what took place during the landing at Puys.

The beach (at Puys) was extremely narrow and was commanded by lofty cliffs where German soldiers were strategically placed. Success depended on surprise and darkness, neither of which prevailed.

The naval landing was delayed, and as the Royals leapt ashore in the growing light they met violent machine-gun fire from the fully-alerted German soldiers. Only a few men were able to get over the heavily wired seawall at the head of the beach; those who did were unable to get back. The rest of the troops, together with three platoons of reinforcements were pinned on the beach by mortar and machine-gun fire, and were later forced to surrender.

Evacuation was impossible in the face of German fire. Of those who landed, 200 were killed and 20 died later of their wounds; the rest were taken prisoner. It was the heaviest toll suffered by a Canadian battalion in a single day throughout the entire war.

After realizing his mission was no longer possible, Davie spent the next four hours grabbing wounded Canadian soldiers off the beach and either carrying them or dragging them to safety behind a disbled tank.

Davie isn't sure how many men he managed to retrieve. He didn't bother to count.

After what seemed like an eternity, several landing craft arrived to extract as many of the injured as possible. With his original objective no longer achievable, Davie returned to one of the ships with the wounded. They were the lucky ones. Over 4,000 men never made it back. They were either killed or taken prisoner.

Davie eventually returned to his base and continued to live a double life between serving with the Irish Guards and going out on special assignment.

He would later take part in the Normandy invasion and see combat duty until the end of the war.

As for the debate over whether or not played a key role in the Allied success on D-Day, Davie still questions the conventional belief that it did.

"I'm not sure what was learned, really," says Davie. "We spent months clearing the way for D-Day. The navy used to send frogmen on the beach all the time to cut barb wire or clear the tank traps. And wherever they got their intelligence from about it wasn't very good."

Of the eight former German POWs who were supposed to act as scouts, one was captured by the Germans, two made it back to England and the rest were killed.

Davie credits his survival to being at the front of the landing craft when it got hit and good fortune. He bristles at any suggestion that he be given special consideration for his role in the raid, or for saving the lives of the men he dragged to safety on the beach.

"I was just an ordinary guy who was doing his job. If you want to look for heroes they're all buried," says Davie.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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