The Dieppe raid was the first major action the Canadian Army fought in Europe during World War II. Yet Tragedy at Dieppe is the tenth volume in your Canadian Battle Series. Why so long getting to this story?
I first started writing about the role Canada’s army played in World War II due to a fascination with the then almost unknown battle to capture the town of Ortona, Italy in December 1943. That resulted in publication of Ortona in 1999, which became a bestseller and led eventually to the creation of the Canadian Battle Series and the intent to chronicle the entire fighting experience of the Canadian Army in World War II. As the series has never had a chronological approach to the war, I decided to leave the Dieppe raid until it could be marked by its 70th anniversary.
The other nine volumes in the series chronicle major battles or campaigns in which the Canadians were victorious. Dieppe was a defeat and a decisive one at that. Did that make the story more difficult to write?
Not really. Remember, although the Canadians emerge as victors in the other Canadian Battle Series volumes, they—or a number of the army’s regiments—often lose battles within them and suffer heavy loss of life. These defeats are as significant and dramatic a part of our history as the victories.
The Dieppe raid took place over a very short time span—little more than nine hours of August 19, 1942. Your writing style entails weaving many experiences of individual soldiers in with the larger historical record to create a thorough history of combat that is highly readable. Was it harder to bring these two elements together in a book about such a short battle?
One thing that surprised me when I started researching the Dieppe raid was the vast amount of reports, interviews with soldiers, and individual accounts written by soldiers that the Canadian Army amassed in the aftermath of the raid and immediately after the repatriation of prisoners in 1945. I came away from the archives in Ottawa and the United Kingdom with thousands of pages of historical documents. Included in those documents were hundreds of accounts by individual soldiers on what happened to them and the men around them. So I had a feast of riches rather than a famine. And during those few short hours the combat was fast and furious, so once I started writing about the raid it unfolded at an extremely intense pace….
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