Veterans who served 75 years ago in Dieppe honoured in Calgary

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Tommy Baker was a teenager when he decided to quit school and join the Militia Reserve.

He signed up against the wishes of his father who repeatedly tried to stop the determined young man.

“I went down about three blocks to another recruiting station,” Baker recalled. “I came out and he said, ‘Well if you want to get shot, go ahead.’”

Baker eventually became a member of the 14th Canadian Armoured Regiment, which came to be known as the “Calgary Tanks.”

“You don’t realize what you’re getting into when you sign up, you sign the dotted line and you go overseas.”

On Aug. 19, 1942, the Calgary Tanks were part of the the Dieppe Raid, which proved to be Canada’s bloodiest day of the Second World War.

Baker recalled being told he would be in charge of helping support the tanks.

“They said you’re going to walk up the beach and carry ammunition for the tanks,” said the veteran. “Which is what I did, until I got nicked in the knee.”

Baker was joined by fellow Dieppe veteran William “Bill” Stewart Saturday at the Military Museums for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe.

More than 5,000 Canadians were part of the effort, taking on the heavily defended coast of occupied France.

The allied forces were discovered prematurely which gave the Germans time to prepare for the imminent landings of allied troops.

As the 14th Army Tank Regiment came to shore they were immobilized by the sea wall and German fire.

Initially the battle was viewed as a failure, but it proved pivotal for future strategy which helped forces during Normandy.

“In Dieppe, this was the first time that Calgary tanks were deployed in a battle and this is the first time Canadian tanks were deployed in battle, “explained Captain Brent Peters, from the King’s Own Calgary Regiment. “This was cutting-edge technology.”

Peters said that the military learned what terrain was best for tanks and their limitations.

“We go and we look at our failures so that we can take those lessons learned forward, and that’s what the allies did and that’s how we broke into Europe.”

Baker was encouraged by Saturday’s ceremony and said he takes every opportunity he can to pay tribute to his fellow soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice.

“They lost a lot of good men, you know, young men 16 or 17. It makes you think.”

For years, Baker found that the war was not something people wanted to talk about. It was upon the urging of his daughter Sandee that he started sharing his story.

“Well I’m proud of him…I’m proud of my father,” explained Sandee Baker.

Sandee Baker has travelled with her father to Dieppe several times, including for the 60th anniversary.

“When we rode the bus into Dieppe he actually started scratching and he broke out into a rash. It was his nerves that came back to him saying, ‘Oh my God, where am I? I’m back at Dieppe.’”

Tommy Baker said ceremonies like Saturday’s are an important reminder that we must never forget.

“It never goes out of my mind, it goes out of a lot of people’s minds, but not mine.”

The anniversary of the bloody battle was celebrated across Canada. Veterans Affair Minister Kent Hehr led the designation in France where ceremonies were also held. ?

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