Dieppe veteran is honoured with commemorative medal
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By TIM CUMMING
Special to the Signal-Star

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A special ceremony marked Remembrance Day in Goderich this year as Corporal Leslie Ellis was presented with a commemorative medallion to recognize his service at the historic raid on Dieppe in 1942. "I'm very, very proud, very proud indeed," Ellis said after receiving the medallion. "I never expected it." Royal Canadian Legion Branch 109 President Norm Leddy presented the medallion to Ellis at a ceremony at the Legion hall on Tuesday. Many members of Ellis's family attended the brief ceremony including his wife Theresa and his great grandson Josh Ennett, of Oil Springs (near Sarnia). Ellis served with the Royal Regiment of Canada and the commemorative medallion honoured his part in Operation Jubilee, the code name for the landing at the French channel port on August 19,1942. Canada supplied almost 5,000 of the 6,000 allied soldiers who took part in the raid. Close to 1,000 Canadians died during the battle as they faced fierce German resistance. There were almost 2,500 wounded Canadians and close to 2,000 taken prisoner. Ellis landed with the Royals at Puys in France. Ellis is also a recipient of the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) for his bravery. The battle of Dieppe is remembered as both the coming of age of Canada's military and also the loss of innocence for Canada's soldiers as largely Canadian troops landed and hundreds upon hundreds were slaughtered by a German army which was ready for the onslaught Ellis does not wade into the controversy over the battle except to say that the debate over Dieppe continues and "some say it was a dress rehearsal for the invasion (of Normandy) and some say it was a whim of the top echelon." "History says the Germans were waiting for us and we didn't have a chance after that," Ellis recalled. He doesn't venture to give his verdict on what Dieppe accomplished but instead says that he and the other soldiers did the job they had to do. "We were all well-trained, we did what we were trained to do," Ellis said. "We were proud to have done it, we were soldiers ... we did what we were expected to do." The impact of that major battle may still be debated but what remains certain is that the Canadian soldiers were brave and there was "a feeling of pride" to serve with them. "They were a great bunch of people," Ellis said. Ellis said he was fortunate to live through Dieppe when so many others died. "I was fortunate that I got over the (beach) wall and got back with a few injuries and the Good Lord spared me," he said in an interview. But his survival did not come without great risk and great consequences. He had his eardrum blown out during the battle and had shrapnel in his foot, hand and face. He escaped the horrors of Dieppe by swimming in the water for more than three and a half hours before he was rescued.

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Leslie Ellis receives his commemorative Dieppe medallion from Branch-109 President Norm Leddy (top) and smiles with great grandson Josh Ennett, of the Sarnia area, who came to see his great grandfather honoured.

Recalling the fateful day of the battle Ellis said "it all happened so fast." He had made it behind enemy lines but as the power of the German ambush became clear Canadian soldiers were forced to retreat. When Ellis ran back to shore he found the landing craft already weighed down with injured soldiers and he knew that if he stayed at Dieppe he would either die from enemy fire or be taken prisoner of war. So he decided to swim in the hope that he might be rescued. "There was no sense for me to get (on that boat) so I took off my clothes and swam," he said. Despite the horrors of that awful day Ellis somehow manages to retain a sense of humour. "I was heading for England," he said, with a slight hint of a smile, when asked by a reporter the location to where he intended to swim. A soldier in a row-boat finally found him but Ellis said he doesn't remember being pulled out of the water. "I woke up in an anti-aircraft (naval boat)," he recalled. The commemorative medallion presented on Tuesday was designed and made available by David Sophia, of Cambridge, Ontario and the Dieppe Veterans and Prisoners' of War Association Canada. The medallion is worn around the neck along with other medals and awards.

 

11th November, 2003