August 19 will always be remembered as the date on which men of the Canadian army fought valiantly in one of their most disastrous battles of the Second World War - the raid on the port of Dieppe.
Morale was high when, late on the night of August 18, 1942, almost 5,000 troops set sail from England. They had been training intensely for two long years in preparation for returning to the continent seized by Nazi Germany. The men of the 2nd Division took some pride that they had been selected to make up the main force of the biggest strike against the enemy since 1940. But the raid did not go well. The German defences were too strong, the planning was poor, and the Canadians had too little support to succeed. As a result, the Canadians suffered shocking losses - 3,367 men killed, wounded or captured, a casualty rate of almost 70% of those who had embarked
Today, many decades later, the city of Windsor, Ontario, continues to remember sacrifices made by the men of its local reserve regiment who landed that day. Of the 553 men of The Essex Scottish Regiment (now The Essex and Kent Scottish) who embarked, only 53 returned to England on August 19, 1940; and, of those, 27 were wounded. To honour these men, in 2006 a black granite memorial was erected on the beach in Dieppe and, in 2010, a similar memorial was placed as the centrepiece of the Dieppe Memorial Garden in Windsor on the Detroit River.
We must continue to remember those who lost their lives in the raid, were injured, or suffered for years as prisoners of war. We should also remember those who showed extraordinary courage in the desperate situation on the beaches that day. Gallantry decorations were soon after awarded to ten officers and men of The Essex Scottish: Captains Hugh Kennedy and Donald MacRae, Sergeant W.E. Hussey, Lance-Sergeant Les Dixon, Corporal Robert Carle, and Privates J. Maier, R.A.M. Baker, L.D. DeLaurier, G.E. Marchant and J.H. Mizon.
Les Dixon was one of those who received special recognition for his actions at Dieppe, but he is also notable because this was his first of several awards for outstanding courage in the war. Leaping out of their landing craft as it hit the beach at Dieppe, Dixon and his men immediately found themselves under heavy enemy fire and faced with coils of barbed wire just metres from the water's edge. Despite the enemy fire and their own casualties, the wire was cut and Dixon led his men through the gap to the sea wall where he organized the survivors to fight back. Although they could not advance over the wall, Dixon began directing Bren-gun fire against enemy positions. At some point in the fight he was wounded but he continued to inspire his men to return fire until the order came to withdraw to the landing craft. While doing so, he assisted some of his men to reach the boats; they were some of the few who managed to return to England and safety.
the Les Dixon recovered from his wounds and was back with the battalion when it landed in Normandy in July 1944. Later that month, in the struggle to capture Verrieres Ridge, he again showed initiative and courage in battle and was awarded the Military medal for the second time. He remained with his battalion over the next six months as it advanced from Normandy, through Holland and into Germany. In February 1945, he was awarded his third Military Medal for stubbornly defending his company headquarters from being overrun during a German counter-attack in the Rhineland.
By the end of the war, Les Dixon and one other British sergeant were the only two soldiers who received the special recognition of being awarded the Military Medal with two Bars.
T. Robert Fowler, author, Canadian military history