80 years after Dieppe, postcards tell stories of soldiers who died in deadly raids

Paris Eakins was 26 years old when she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in November 1940 during World War II.

He was born in Minnedosa, Man., where he lived until he attended the University of Manitoba, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. Eakins worked at his town’s newspaper and later joined the sports department of the Winnipeg Free Press.

After he enlisted, Eakins worked his way up to become a pilot officer in a fighter squadron based in England in 1941. The following year, he was killed in northern France during the disastrous Dieppe Raid. He was 27 years old.

Eakins’ story appears in a Canadian postcard campaign ahead of the 80th anniversary of the raid on Friday.

The Juno Beach Center Association has sent 400 unique postcards to addresses across the country that share the name and fate of a serviceman whose records show he once lived in those locations.

“(We) encourage people to take a moment to consider the anniversary, to consider what happened to this person who lived in their home or very close to them, 80 years ago or more,” said Alex Fitzgerald-Black, director of the association.

The Dieppe Raid, known as Operation Jubilee, on August 19, 1942, was the Canadian Army’s first major combat against Nazi Germany.

Canadian and British troops landed on the beaches near the German-occupied French port with the mission of capturing the city, destroying the port facilities, and returning to England with information that might give them an advantage.

Instead, the raid failed, and Operation Jubilee became Canada’s bloodiest day of World War II.

“It was the Canadian Army’s baptism of fire against Nazi Germany during the war. Unfortunately, it was a deadly failure,” Fitzgerald-Black said.

Some 5,000 Canadian soldiers participated in the raid. In less than 10 hours of fighting, more than 800 were killed, with some 100 more later succumbing to their injuries. Some 2,000 more became prisoners of war.

Preparations for the postcard campaign began at the end of last year. The association’s employees and volunteers reviewed the service files of the people who were killed to see if they could link their old addresses to their current ones.

They were able to develop an address list of half of those who died. The list is skewed toward addresses in urban settings because those from rural areas can’t be replicated, Fitzgerald-Black said. Many went to cities in southern Ontario, as well as Montreal and Winnipeg.

The association also produced a temporary exhibition in honor of the anniversary in Normandy, France.

A delegation of federal ministers, veterans, representatives of indigenous and veterans organizations and members of the Canadian Armed Forces traveled to France this week to participate in events marking the anniversary.

Three of the veterans who participated served in World War II, including a survivor of the attack.

“It is vitally important that we continue to recognize and honor the extraordinary service and sacrifice we witnessed 80 years ago on the beaches of Dieppe,” Lawrence MacAulay, minister for veterans affairs, said in a statement.

“As the living memory of this pivotal moment fades, we as Canadians must ensure that the legacy of those who served Canada is never forgotten.”

Stories like Eakins’ have left their mark on Fitzgerald-Black.

He hopes the postcard project will help Canadians remember those who have died serving their country and those who have survived.

“They are not going to be around much longer to share these stories, the stories of their comrades who were killed during the raid,” he said.

“And so we hope that Canadians will continue to pick up the torch to do this in the future.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 18, 2022.

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