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Article / August 19, 2013 / Project number: 13-0068

Ottawa, Ontario — “People were being shot at; people were being killed all over. It was an absolute catastrophe and I could see and hear the disaster taking place all around me. We were left immobilized near the beach and I thought I was going to be taken prisoner.” 

This chaotic and devastating scene is how Honorary Colonel David Lloyd Hart, now 96 years old, describes the fateful 1942 Allied attack on the German-occupied town of Dieppe in Northern France known as “Operation Jubilee.”

The Dieppe Raid was one of the most devastating and bloody chapters in Canadian military history. Approximately 5000 Canadians made up the bulk of the 6100-strong Allied force. Supported by eight destroyers and 74 air squadrons, they battled 6000 well fortified and entrenched German soldiers. The casualties for Canada totaled 3367, including 913 dead and 1874 prisoners of war.

We knew there was going to be a raid. Of course the training was pretty rigid. But the intelligence was bad. We thought there was only going to be 1000 German troops and we had 6000. But Dieppe had been reinforced by 5000 seasoned German soldiers. It was a 1-1 ratio. And you don’t normally do a full frontal assault unless you have at least 3-1 superiority.” 

HCol Hart, a Sergeant in the Canadian Army at the time, was the only communication link between the frontline and the headquarters. In the confusion of the raid, communication was essential to the survival of the Allied troops.

HCol Hart spent much of the battle communicating with the frontline, reporting back to headquarters and relaying movement, reinforcement and retreat orders to the troops.

In the heat of battle he radioed to forward units that rescue craft would be arriving at 10:00 a.m. instead of 11:00 a.m., a crucial change in operational plans. And, at one point during the battle, he cut off communication with headquarters in order to relay retreat orders to the Camerons and the South Saskatchewan Regiment, who were under heavy fire and could not be reached by headquarters.

I knew I had a frequency I could contact them with if I could get off the air. Discipline was very rigid those days as far as using radio. I had to ask for permission to get off the air and was told no because I was the only communications forward and back. I promised to come back in two minutes and they agreed. I got off the air, got a hold of the two units, gave them the order to come out and was back on the air in 30 seconds.” 

This scene is depicted in a painting by Montreal artist Adam Sherriff Scott who died in 1980. HCol Hart sat with Scott for six days describing what happened.

The painting shows the aircraft overhead, the seawall where the men and tanks were pinned down under fire and engineers on the landing craft shooting at enemy aircraft. HCol Hart is depicted in the bottom right with a communications device in hand.

The picture is currently hanging at 4625 Catherine Street West in the 34 Signal Regiment, Royal Montreal Regiment building.

HCol Hart saved countless lives, was given a commission and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery and to “coolness under fire in the continuous performance of his duties.” The citation came out three months after the Dieppe Raid and HCol Hart received his medal from King George VI himself in Buckingham Palace.

He went on to study accounting but stayed in the military, eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in 1965 before being honourably discharged.

He was an Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel from 1976 until April 23, 2013 when he was promoted to full Honorary Colonel of 34 Signal Regiment. At 96 he is semi-retired and still occasionally practices accounting.

For his part in the war he says: “I had been a high school cadet from ’31-’34, liked the Army and could see the winds of war were starting in ’37. So I joined. Thought maybe I’d be able to do my bit. And I guess I did.” 

Article by Ryan Ferrara, Army Public Affairs

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