The Cenotaph where Chestermerians will soon gather to remember and honour Canada’s fallen heroes and military veterans, has a new and little-known connection to the Dieppe Raid.
The designer of Chestermere’s Cenotaph, artist Richard Hessler recently completed work on the Dieppe memorial for the 14 Tank Regiment.
“It was a real honour…there’s not enough words to express the honour and the emotions I felt in both working on it and unveiling it in France,” said Hessler.
The 14 Tank Regiment’s battle honours continue today with the Kings Own Calgary Regiment, a reserve unit of the Canadian Forces that both Hessler and his father Raymond served in.
It was the King’s Own who commissioned Hessler to create the monument to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the raid this past August.
Work started on the monument about two years ago just after he had finished the work on Chestermere’s Cenotaph.
“My dad and I go to the King’s Own Regimental Dinner every year for St. Georges Day,” he said, “and when we were there, they were…discussing that they should do something for Dieppe.”
Prior to the unveiling of the new monument, there was only a small plaque to memorialize the Regiment’s sacrifices in the raid.
It was at this dinner that Hessler was asked to make a new monument to be installed in France for the Regiment.
“I was totally honoured to do it for them,” said Hessler.
Once Hessler agreed to the project, members of the King’s Own contacted the Mayor of Dieppe to ask if the Regiment could put up a new memorial on the anniversary of the raid.
“He came back right away and said yes, no problem,” said Hessler.
With the approval, Hessler was able to start work in earnest.
He was given the maximum dimensions for the monument, one metre wide and two metres high, as well as photos of the location the monument would be installed.
“Which is right on the beach where the tanks landed,” he said.
Design and funding for the project were finalized by August 2016 when Hessler started to put chisel to granite.
He describes the raid as “a very poorly planned invasion.”
The German positions were well dug in and overwhelming for the landing troops who had little to no cover as they attempted to storm the beach.
Hessler was inspired in creating the design for the monument by the actions of 16 tanks from the regiment that formed a protective circle, known as the Ring of Steel, to provide cover and support for the attacking infantry.
“When the tanks landed at Dieppe…most of them made it up onto the promenade,” he said.
“Sixteen tanks went back onto the beach…to support the infantry and give them cover.”
Hessler said that those tanks fought to the last round to cover the infantry as they began to evacuate the beach.
Once they were out of ammunition, the tanks were forced to surrender.
Hessler’s design shows on one side the beach, cliffs and the Ring of Steel along with the 14th Calgary Tanks cap badge.
“On the other side is the modern-day crest of the King’s Own Calgary Regiment, one large image of a Churchill tank, and some poppies on the bottom,” he said.
There were 13 members of the regiment killed in the raid on Dieppe, all of whom are memorialized on the side of the new monument.
“There was actually 14 maple leaves, 13 with the names of the killed in action…and one maple leaf for the 157 King’s own that were taken prisoner,” said Hessler.
It was then shipped to France and installed in the Spring of 2017 to await the official unveiling on the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid on Aug. 19.
Hessler travelled to France for the anniversary and, “with pride, unveiled it.”
He was joined by both his brother and father on the trip.
“It was very emotional,” he said.
The night before the unveiling, Hessler attended a candlelight vigil at the Canadian War Graves cemetery in Dieppe.
“For me that was very emotional because I got to see the graves of the names I etched on that monument,” he said.
“I now have a connection with those 13 names,” said Hessler.
Adding to the emotion of the ceremony was the crowd which was made up of a combination of local citizens from Dieppe, Canadian veterans, and currently serving reservists and representatives from every regiment that fought at Dieppe.
He estimates that the crowd numbered about 300 people for the unveiling.
“It was a very big day,” said Hessler.
He said that France takes the act of Remembrance seriously, and the raid is commemorated every year.
“Everywhere you went in Dieppe there were Canadian Flags,” he said.
For the official unveiling, Hessler was joined by the Commanding Officer of the King’s Own and a veteran who had landed at Dieppe and been captured in the raid.
“That was very moving to do that with him,” said Hessler.
“When he came up and shook my hand and we unveiled it, that was probably the most emotional part of the ceremony,” he said.
The unveiling was part of a larger battlefield tour that Hessler and other members and former members of the King’s Own went on while in Europe.
They visited battlefields from both world wars that Canadians played a prominent role in including Juno Beach, and Vimy Ridge.
Hessler’s father Raymond joined his son for the trip to Dieppe and said it was an amazing experience to be able to support his son and join him on the tour through Europe.
“It was something else,” he said.
Raymond, who lives in Chestermere, served in the regular Forces before he retired and joined the reserves in Calgary.
While in the Regular Forces, he was stationed in Europe but never visited Dieppe.
“I was stationed over in Europe there in the ‘50s but young and stupid I never went to see any of these monuments which I should have,” he laughed.
He made up for missed opportunities with this trip.
The moment that stands out though was went the monument was unveiled.
“They had the monument covered with the flag of the Regiment and then when they removed the flag to the dedication, that was the best part of it I think,” said Raymond.