The Times, Monday, 17th July 2000

It has been reported from Canada that Lieutenant Colonel Charles Merritt VC, who commanded the South Sasketchewan Regiment, Canadian Infantry Corps, has died, aged 91, in Vancouver. The date of his death was the 12th July 2000.

The Dieppe Raid in 1942 in which Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Merritt won the Victoria Cross for gallantry and inspiring leadership, was subsequently judged a military disaster and a needless waste of lives, especially Canadian lives. Even so, it was a terrific fight and those who survived looked back on the 19th August as a day of awesome courage and sacrifice.

The military purpose was to gain experience of an opposed landing and the capture of a continental port in anticipation of launching a second front in northwest Europe. There were also political factors. The Western Allies were under intense pressure from Stalin to "do something" to draw German reinforcements and aircraft away from the Eastern Front in Russia.

Some 5,000 men of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, 1,000 British Commandos and 50 United States Rangers comprised the landing force. A frontal attack on the town was thought preferable to an encircling manoeuvre on the grounds that the operation would be judged a failure if the port was not taken.

Two experienced British Commando units ( Numbers 3 & 4 ) were assigend to land before dawn to destroy German heavy gun batteries on promontories east and west of the port, a task in which they were largely successful. Two Canadian battalions were scheduled to land at the same time to the immediate east and west of Dieppe to give landward support to the attacks on the guns, and form a secure perimeter for the main force to land. The right flank Canadian battalion assigned to Green Beach was the South Saskatchewan Regiment commanded by Charles Merritt. His objectives were Pourville, west of the port, then the cliffs above the village.

His force crossed the Channel in Royal Navy destroyers, transferred to landing craft ten miles offshore, and reached Green Beach on time, in near darkness and unopposed. But the main part of the battalion was landed on the wrong side of the River Scie estuary and faced crossing a narrow bridge through Pourville in order to approach their objectives on the cliffs. By then, alert to the situation, the German defenders targeted the bridge with machine-gun and mortar fire. Initial Canadian attempts failed to storm the bridge, leaving it covered with dead and wounded. Merritt led the next rush forward, waving his steel helmet with the rallying shout "Come on over, there's nothing to it".

His audacity took the enemy by surprise; one group of men followed him over the bridge and others used the girders to cross. Merritt soon had most of his surviving men on the far bank, but shortage of mortar ammunition and lack of communications with the destroyers to call for supporting fire made any further advance impossible.

Meanwhile, the company landed on the west bank of the Scie had reached its objective and sent a success signal to the operation command ship. This, and one from Lord Lovat's Number 4 Commando, were the only two success signals sent in the entire operation. Finding all moves towards his objectives blocked by concrete "pillboxes", Merritt led an attack on each in turn, personally killing the occupants of one by throwing grenades through the enemy's firing ports. When the last enemy strongpoint had been silenced, Merritt had been twice wounded and his battalion reduced to fewer than 300 men. He held on to an improvised perimeter nevertheless, and kept contact with his section positions by moving from one to another after his runners had been killed. When the time came to move back to the beach, Merritt coolly gave instructions for an orderly withdrawal and announced his intention to hold off the enemy from a rearguard position in a small bandstand near the beach to cover the re-embarkation.

The South Sasketchewan battalion left 84 dead on Green Beach and 89 more, including Merritt and eight other officers were taken prisoner. Merritt was sent to a prison camp, Oflag VIIB at eichstatt in Bavaria, where he saw out the rest of the war.

[ London Gazette, 2 October 1942 ], Dieppe Raid, France, 19 August 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Cecil Merritt, Commanding South Saskatchewan Regiment, Canadian Infantry Corps.

For matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership whilst commanding his battalion during the Dieppe raid on the 19th August 1942. From the point of landing his unit's advance had to be made across a bridge in Pouville which was swept by very heavy machine-gun, motar and artillery fire, the first parties were mostly destroyed and the bridge thickly covered by their bodies. A daring lead was required: waving his helmet, Lieutenant Colonel Merritt rushed forward shouting "Come on over! There's nothing to worry about here". He thus personally led the survivors of at least four parties in turn across the bridge.

Quickly organizing these, he led them forward and when held up by enemy pillboxes he again headed rushes which succeeded in clearing them. In one case he himself destroyed the occupants of the post by throwing grenades into it. After several of his runner became casualties, he himself kept contact with his different positions.

Although twice wounded Lieutenant Colonel Merritt continued to direct the unit's operations with great vigour and determination and while organizing the withdrawal he stalked a sniper with a Bren gun and silenced him. He then coolly gave orders for the departure and announced his intention to hold off and "get even with" the enemy. When last seen he was collecting Bren and Tommy guns and preparing a defensive position which successfully covered the withdrawal from the beach.

Lieutenant Colonel Merritt is now reported to be a Prisoner of War. To this Commanding Officer's personal daring, the success of his unit's operations and the safe re-embarkation of a large portion of it were chiefly due.

Charles Merritt was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 22nd June 1945.

Two further Victoria Crosses were awarded following the Dieppe Raid, one to Major, The Rev John Foote, Canadian Chaplains' Service ( attached Royal Hamilton Light Infantry ), and the other to Colonel Patrick Porteous, Royal Regiment of Artillery.

( select to enlarge )
Medal entitlement of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Merritt,
South Saskatchewan Regiment

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1939-45 Star
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Canadian Volunteer Service Medal ( 1939-45 )
    • 2 clasps:
    • "Maple Leaf" - "Dieppe"
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Canadian Centennial Medal ( 1967 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )
  • 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal ( 1992 )
  • Efficiency Decoration ( ED )
    • "Canada" clasp

VC Deaths

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Iain Stewart, 17 July 2000