Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lazy Sunday # 183: Dieppe


On July 27th, journalist Tim Knight caused quite a stir by stating that he had finally lost all respect for CBC's National newscast.

The cause of Mr. Knight's displeasure was that the date marked Canada's official departure from combat in Afghanistan. It was a historical moment, one that had been discussed endlessly on CBC for a decade.

Yet, when it arrived, despite the price in blood and treasure that the war had extracted, despite the moment having a profound personal impact on thousands of Canadian families, the National spent most of its time gushing over a couple of upper class twits visiting the country.

After babbling about the Royal Tour, the newscast spent time examining the Casey Anthony trial in Florida, flooding in China, a stadium collapse and a dust storm in Phoenix. It finally presented the Afghan withdrawal with a brief voice over and stock footage -- despite still having correspondents in the combat zone.

Banality had triumphed over substance. And for this we pay over a Billion dollars a year.

On the other hand, maybe CBC is no worse than any other Canadian broadcaster when it comes to recounting our history. August 19th passed with barely a mention of why that date was once coldly carved into the hearts of several generations of Canadians.

On August 19, 1942 more than 5000 Canadian troops, supported by the Royal Navy, RAF and British, American and Free French Commandoes attacked the French port of Dieppe. It was a raid designed to test German defenses and test Allied landing strategies and equipment. It was also intended to show Russia's Joseph Stalin that the Western powers were ready to open a second front against Hitler.

From start to finish the action was a complete disaster. The Germans knew well in advance that the attack was coming. In fact, they'd spent weeks perfecting their defenses, even marking the exact positions where mortar shells would land.

The day before, the BBC began broadcasting warnings to French civilians to leave the coast and the RAF and Royal Navy didn't bomb or shell the town in order to avoid killing non-combatants.

What's more, the tanks and artillery sent ashore weren't designed to traverse the pebble beaches. Every single one was destroyed while still in the water.

Finally, hours before the raid, Field Marshal Montgomery had insisted the mission be scrubbed, since it had no chance of succeeding. But he was over-ruled by Lord Louis Mountbatten, a member of the same Royal family with which today's CBC seems so smitten.

Mountbatten's folly echoed the same "toy soldier" approach that had slaughtered Australian troops at Gallipoli in WWI. On August 19, 1942, it was Canada's turn to provide the cannon fodder.

Six hours after it began, the battle was lost. 3,367 Canadians were either dead, wounded or taken prisoner. Most of them had never gotten off the beach.

Many of those lost were from my home province of Saskatchewan and when I was a kid it wasn't unusual to be told that this guy had lost his son or brother at Dieppe or that one limped because of the wounds he'd received that day.

Later, when I was acting, I did two plays that dealt with the debacle at Dieppe; Tom Hendry's inspired "Gravediggers of 1942" and Peter Colley's "The War Show". The latter's first act climax depicted the slaughter on the beach. Often the curtain dropped not to applause but to silence and the sound of someone weeping.

One night, during the intermission, there was a knock on the Green Room door. Being the only actor who wasn't in the middle of a cigarette, I answered it. A huge, muscular man in his late 50's filled the doorway with tears streaming down his face. He reached out and dropped several crumpled 10's and 20's into my hand. "I lost a lot of good friends at Dieppe," he said, "Have a drink to 'em on me."

He started away, then turned back. "And Bless you all for remembering. It means a lot."

Just apparently not to anyone in Canadian broadcasting…

Enjoy your Sunday.


Joel Scott said...

Nestled away in West end Regina is a suburban development built in the 1960s that is named after this raid.

It's called Dieppe Place and it not only salutes and honours the servicemen who fought in that slaughter, it actually was developed to house many of the surviving members of that battle.

A family friend, who lived in Dieppe Place in one of the sparkling 1000 sq foot bungalows, came over to our house often with his wife to socialize with Ma and Pa.

I distinctly remember when I was 8 years old, my dad summoning all the siblings to the kitchen to hear a story from Jim. He started by asking us if we knew what the word Dieppe meant? None of us did.

He then graphically showed us what it meant to him. He hiked up his pants and removed his left leg from his upper thigh. I was shocked...and silent.

Jim went on to describe the entire ordeal to us of his struggle to live after having his leg blown off by a mortar and how he dragged himself to the shoreline and swam to a waiting boat to try to save himself.

I can remember the relief I felt when he described reaching the boat and a fisherman and his wife reached down to pull him out of the water. What happened next was absolutely astonishing. He said "and then it happened.".......

Jim hiked his other pant leg up and removed his other leg at the hip. It turns out that as he was being pulled into the fisherman's boat, another larger rescue boat trying to save dozens in the water, slammed into them severing his 2nd leg.

This image is forever seared into my psyche. So yes, Dieppe means something to me. Obviously, 1 degree of separation is hard to find as the veterans die off, but if I could have had that day in my parents' kitchen on film, many Canadians would understand what incredible sacrifices and losses Canadians took that infamous day.

It certainly would have made a great feature on the National.

But CBC would have been much too busy chasing ambulances, pretending to be Entertainment Tonight and telling American stories to fit it in.

CBC is off to another BS season of missing the mark, now finally joining the American Idol lot, with their Karoke contest "Cover me Canada'.

What ever happened to its mandate to foster creativity instead of mimicking other peoples' agendas ?

Are we to believe that writing NEW songs is a lost art and covers of 25 year old tunes are all we can expect of this public institution?

CBC, posing as a news organization as they are becoming more and more irrelevant, lazy, myopic, self involved and totally out of touch.

Research said...

Mr. Scott, thank you for telling that story. CBC should feature it in their 75th anniversary celebrations.

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.