Dieppe hero marks 80 years of service

Article / October 3, 2017 / Project number: 17-0283

By Ryan Ferrara and Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Westmount, Quebec — The Canadian Army is celebrating its longest-serving officer with a commemorative ceremony marking his remarkable 80 years of service.

It is the second distinction of 2017 for Honorary Colonel David Lloyd Hart, who also celebrated his 100th birthday this past July. HCol Hart will be feted by members of 34 Signal Regiment – where he continues to fulfill the role of Honorary Colonel – on Tuesday, October 3 at the Sainte-Catherine Armoury in Westmount, Quebec.

HCol Hart enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1937 and deployed to England and France during the Second World War. Among other honours, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery by His Majesty King George VI at Buckingham Palace for his actions during the Dieppe Raid.

“People were being shot at, people were being killed all over,” he recalled. “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.”

The Dieppe Raid was one of the most devastating and bloody chapters in Canadian military history. Approximately 5,000 Canadians made up the bulk of the 6,100-strong Allied force. Supported by eight destroyers and 74 air squadrons, they battled 6,000 well-fortified and entrenched German soldiers. The casualties for Canada totaled 3,367, including 913 dead and 1,874 prisoners of war.

“We knew there was going to be a raid,” HCol Hart said. “Of course the training was pretty rigid. But the intelligence was bad. We thought there was only going to be 1,000 German troops and we had 6,000. But Dieppe had been reinforced by 5,000 seasoned German soldiers. It was a one-to-one ratio. And you don’t normally do a full frontal assault unless you have at least three to one 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. He 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 a.m. instead of 11 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 units 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 Sainte-Catherine Armoury.

HCol Hart saved countless lives, was given a commission and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery and “coolness under fire in the continuous performance of his duties.”

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, based in Westmount, Quebec.

Of his part in the war he now 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.”

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