This Week in History

The Acts of Merritt

For the Week of Monday, August 14, 2017

On August 19, 1942, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt led The South Saskatchewan Regiment (SSR) during the raid on the French port of Dieppe. For exemplary valour and leadership, Merritt received the Victoria Cross.

Merritt cleared one enemy “pillbox” – a low-roofed, concrete emplacement for anti-tank and machine guns – by throwing grenades into its firing port
Department of National Defence

Born on November 10, 1908, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Merritt graduated from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, in 1929. An officer in the reserve regiment, The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, he became a barrister in 1932, practising law until the Second World War began. A major in 1939, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1942 and took command of the SSR during preparations for Dieppe.

Nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers participated in the Dieppe raid, which was disastrous for the Allied forces. Landing at Pourville, the SSR and the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders were the only group to surprise the enemy. With their objective between Pourville and Dieppe, they advanced east from “Green Beach.”

However, most of them landed on the west side of Pourville, which was bisected by the River Scie, leaving them no choice but to use a village bridge to cross eastward. They were quickly detected. A barrage of German artillery and machine gun fire halted their advance. Although their first attempt failed, Merritt rushed forward to lead a second charge.

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After the war, Merritt served as a Member of Parliament for Vancouver-Burrard before returning to his law practice. He died in 2000
Arthur Roy / Library and Archives Canada/PA-047328

On the bridge, he took his helmet off, waved it to his men and shouted, “Come on over. There’s nothing to worry about here.” Merritt crossed the bridge four times to lead his men to the east side. Once the troops were across, however, they became pinned down by enemy “pillboxes.” Under Merritt’s leadership, the battalion charged uphill and managed to destroy them.

Despite being wounded twice, he organized the withdrawal, all the while stalking and silencing an enemy sniper in the process. Merritt then formed a rear guard, holding the enemy's advance long enough for the rest of the SSR to retreat. Merritt and the rear guard were among the more than 1,900 Canadians taken prisoner by German forces at Dieppe.

The Canadian Raid on Dieppe is a designated national historic event. To learn more about Dieppe and the Second World War, read Disaster at Dieppe, “Loud roared the dreadful thunder…” HMCS Haida, and What If … in the This Week in History archives.

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