This week-end marked the 70th anniversary of the Dieppe raid. Canadian troops and members of the Royal Canadian Air Force led a raid on the beach of Dieppe on August 19, 1942. Of the 5000 Canadians who went on the mission, only 2200 returned to England – many wounded – and as many as 2000 Canadians taken prisoner never returned home.
One who did return home was my father’s younger brother, Jackie, who had joined the RCAF (the Oshawa squadron), and flew a Spitfire at Dieppe, shooting down seven enemy planes and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross when he was less than 21 years old.
Uncle Jack’s career was in show business, and he only talked of the war toward the end of his life. His last big project was the Spitfire Band, and he remained proud his whole life of what those moments meant to him. But it was all marked by a terrible sense of trauma and loss, so many friends killed, so many buddies who didn’t make it.
I thought of Jack and his friends this week-end. Men of courage who went on to build a country, rarely sharing their memories, but living with them forever.
When Jackie died the Spitfire Band played long into the night and so too we recited the words of his fellow pilot Gillespie Magee’s famous words in “High Flight”:
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”