Sacrifice before Victory - Ron Beal
Ron Beal took part in the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942 and never forgot the horror of that dreadful day. He vividly remembered landing on the beach and the years he spent as a prisoner of war
Ron joined the army in December 1939, as a private in the Royal Regiment of Canada. At the age of 18, he enlisted because he felt it was his duty – he wanted to serve his country as his father had done before him in the First World War.
Initially, he trained as a stretcher-bearer and later became a rifleman. He also received training in commando tactics for three months on the Isle of Wight before going into the battle at Dieppe. He was ready.
On that August morning in 1942, as the landing craft on which he and his comrades were sailing approached the coast of France, they encountered a small German convoy and a sea fight followed alerting the coastal defences of the impending attack. The delay in landing and the growing light dashed their hopes for a surprise attack – the enemy was waiting.
Ron and his comrades landed at Blue Beach at Puys on that awful morning in full daylight – the element of surprise was completely lost. They had been trained to disembark the landing craft quickly so that as soon as the craft hit the beach, it would reverse its engines to make a quick getaway and avoid getting blown up by mortar shells. Some of the men made a dry landing, but others – those last off the landing craft – had to jump into the water and wade ashore carrying their rifles and heavy backpacks loaded with ammunition and other necessities.
They had been trained to run a short distance up the beach and drop down – then get up again and drop. But as Ron dropped and looked around, he realized that a lot of the men were not getting up again – they were dead. "Keep your heads down," warned his Sergeant, "these guys are playing for keeps." Ron made it to the seawall but he and the rest of the men were unable to continue fighting – they could not go forward nor could they go back – they were under constant machine-gun fire. With their ammunition exhausted, they had no choice but to surrender.
Ron was taken a prisoner of war (POW) that day. He was 21 years old. He and the other POWs were taken by train to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. In January 1945, due to the Russian advance, they were marched across Germany to northwest of Hanover seldom moving in the same direction. Sometimes they would go north and sometimes they would go south, backtracking to avoid the Russians depending on where they were – it took a long time to get to the new camp. "The only thing that kept us going was that we knew the Allies were winning and every step was one step closer to home," said Ron.
For most of the time in the war camp, the POWs' hands were bound in shackles. This made it very difficult for them to attend to their most basic human functions of daily living. "It was dehumanizing," said Ron. Their diet consisted mostly of bread.
He remained a prisoner until just before the end of the war when he was liberated in April 1945. He was not injured during the war, but before returning home, he spent a month in a hospital in England because he was in pretty bad shape.
With his regiment almost decimated at Dieppe, his homecoming must have been bittersweet for him, since many of his comrades - some of whom he had known from childhood and through school – had been his close friends and would not be returning.
Ron found it remarkable that he survived the raid on Dieppe. "God must have had his hand on my shoulder," he said, "or maybe he was just saving me for other work." And that may be so. For many years, Ron Beal worked to help Veterans who fought at Dieppe as President of the Dieppe Veterans and War Prisoners Association in Canada.
- Date modified: