George Marchant in 2010.Historica Canada
"And as he came out of that seat, another man without any word or instruction, another man leaped to that seat, got into that saddle and grabbed the gun and started firing again. That happened three times."
I think what happened at Dieppe [August 19, 1942] was unavoidable. Hindsight is easy to come by, and it’s easy to find fault in the things when things are all over. But certainly, we’ve made mistakes, everybody makes mistakes. But it tested us as troops, and we fulfilled our obligation to do the best we could under horrendous conditions. I was prepared probably a little less than most of the troops because I was on a special course when the training at the Isle of Wight [England] took place. And I joined the regiment just shortly before they went to Dieppe properly, and I was devoid of the training that the chaps on the Isle of Wight had. I went over on a tank landing craft, TLC 13. I remember the number exceedingly clearly because I went aboard in the evening and in the morning, when we were just leaving dock, one of the chaps looked at me and he yelled at me from a troop ship nearby and he looked down on us in this little tank craft and he said, “You’re not coming back, Marchant.” And I said, “Why would you say that?” He said, “Look at the number on your ship.” Well, I couldn’t, I was inside this boat and it was TLC 13. And they said, “Your in 13, you’re never going to make it.” I said, “Oh, don’t worry about that,” I said, “I’m not superstitious.”
Unfortunately, I was the only one that did come back. But it was difficult. There were three Churchill tanks on that boat plus a Jeep that was tied to the last one. And when we went ashore early in the morning, the ramp went down too early, actually, it was shot down, I believe, by the enemy and it splashed down into the water. And the first tank went off because they were already sealed in, waterproofed, and the first tank went off and we never heard from him again, he went under the landing craft and we went right over him, pinned the three of them in the tank and the next two went off the same way. The third one got on the beach, but it was totally devastated, the tracks were blown off it.
But we weren’t able to land properly, there was no proper landing as such. We got ashore as best we could, so to speak, but it was very disarrayed. Sitting in the boat, in the bottom of that tank landing craft in these three Churchill tanks, waiting to take off, waiting for the ramp to drop, we were coming under fire from the shore, from the cliffs. And the enemy were shooting at our tank, at our vessel at that point in time, and the British sailors on that landing craft jumped to the Oerlikon gun at the back of that boat, it was one Oerlikon gun, it’s a heavy anti-aircraft gun, and the British sailor, this is the part that really caught my heart, jumped into that saddle that he was put in and he opened fire on the enemy and about as fast as he opened fire, they shot him out of that seat. And as he came out of that seat, another man without any word or instruction, another man leaped to that seat, got into that saddle and grabbed the gun and started firing again. That happened three times. The third time, the gun was totally demolished – it was the end of it. But I actually watched three men voluntarily, without any instruction, without any solicitation, without any urging, climb into that saddle and open fire on an enemy they couldn’t even see, just firing into the cliffs. And they didn’t have a chance, they didn’t have a chance. But remarkable courage these men had. If I learned anything out of it, I learned to be grateful, I learned to be grateful. And the smallest man could be the biggest friend in the world.
I had a man soldier with me, he weighed 98 pounds. And he was a little torrent of dynamite, and they couldn’t get him to work with anybody, he had a bad temper. But he worked for me, they gave him to me as one of my men and I accepted him gladly because I knew his heart. And that man was one of the greatest soldiers I ever knew. He got an award from General [Bernard] Montgomery for bravery in the field and that man saved more lives than I would ever dare to contemplate. He was a remarkable man, and yet, if you were to meet that man on the street, you wouldn’t tip your hat to him. He looked unkempt, he looked unclean, he looked disheveled somehow. He just didn’t look like a gentleman, so to speak. But he was sure a man in the field. He was a great soldier, a great soldier, one you could depend on. But he didn’t look it but he was. So I learned that the smallest man could be a great man under the right circumstances. You were given an opportunity.