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Carnage and Courage

The Dieppe Raid

One German shell hit the hold, the back part of the ship. HMS Calpe. And it set the magazine on fire. Now the magazine was storing cordite. Now, if you know anything about cordite it’s very explosive and it looks like spaghetti. It’s flexible like putty. But it’s very explosive. The HMS Calpe was hit. It has three turbines. Each section of the ship is isolated. That is it has safety doors, which are water-tight doors. The crew that are in those compartments, in the ship, have no escape. And when the sound of alert goes, that whoop, whoop, whoop - three times, the doors shut down tight. Now we only had three turbines. But when a magazine caught fire, it blocked all exits for any escape. Three navy men. Now you wanted to know, what the navy, the courage of the British navy. Three men, naval ratings, jumped into the magazine, on fire. They opened the hatches, and they start throwing out burning cordite, out of the magazine. Three men. Yes. They were right there into an inferno, into a hell. Well, they got the fire out, and they saved the ship. But they didn’t save their lives, because two of them died when they pulled them up from the magazine. A third one, he had no clothes on, the skin, just ribbons of skin hanging down from his body. I went, I was one of those that were still in fairly good condition. I went down. I brought up a white hospital sheet to wrap him up in. Well, sort of a blanket. So, he was wrapped up into this blanket, and so, then I went and I got a pail of water. Now it had to be distilled water because I opened up the valves from the steam and I let the steam into the bucket, and I got half a pail of hot water. Which is distilled water. And we threw in twenty-five or thirty tea bags in there and I got hold of a ladle and I went up above and I went straight to him. And I said “You deserve one.” And so, I handed him a ladle of tea. He drank it. “Well,” he says, “this is my last one.” I said “Why?” He says “I’ll never live. I lost too much skin, and I know it.” So, he says “I’m going to end it. Now don’t tell the captain and don’t say anything to anybody until tomorrow, but I’m going overboard.” And he put his two hands on the, on the cable and he flipped backwards. I saw his body go down, and the blanket, and toward the end of the ship I saw the white blanket floating away in the darkness. Well, I says “That’s courage.”

At 11 o’clock in the morning, the Royal Navy ship, from which Mr. Grand was observing the carnage on the beach, lay three miles off-shore. Orders were received to proceed to the beach with instructions to “use everything”. Mr. Grand tells of the events that followed and the remarkable courage of three British Navy men who saved the lives of those on board.

John Grand

Mr. Grand was born in 1909 in, as he described it, “a small hamlet in the wilderness of southern Manitoba.” His father homesteaded in Manitoba and then Saskatchewan. John Grand described his growing up during the Depression as poor and tough.

Mr. Grand was very interested in electronics as a teenager and held an amateur radio licence. He tried to join the Signal Corps in the 1930's, but was rejected for being “too flat-chested”. He remembers being so poor that he often joined the soup line to get something to eat. His first job was on the assembly line at Canadian Marconi for eleven cents an hour.

He joined the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals when war was declared in 1939. He was first assigned as a radio operator, but when his superiors saw his mechanical skills he was quickly re-assigned as a radio technician. His overseas service included landing at Dieppe, participating in the Normandy Campaign and in the liberation of Holland.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
John Grand
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Royal Canadian Signals Corps
Staff Sergeant
Radio Operator and Technician

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