At the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa, a special case containing a flag will sit at the foot of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This flag was recovered from the beaches of Dieppe in 1942. Its presence is a nod to the 80th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid and a promise to always remember those who fought and died in that battle.
The dutifully encased Red Ensign flag, the earliest symbol of national unity, bears a design that dates back to just after Manitoba joined Confederation, but before British Columbia joined - somewhere between 1870 and 1873. How this flag ended up at Dieppe 70 years later will always be a bit of a mystery, but the story behind the flag, passed down from caretaker to caretaker, is one of pride, hope and coming home.
The story as told to us, begins with an American soldier who was part of the European effort in Germany during the Second World War. He is said to have taken the flag from a captured German soldier who told him the flag was taken from a Canadian soldier at the Raid on Dieppe. It was not known whether the Canadian soldier was alive or dead. Of the nearly 5000 Canadians who fought at Dieppe on 19 August 1942, 3,367 would become casualties, including 916 Canadians who lost their lives. It was the heaviest toll suffered by the Canadian military in a single day during the entire war.
One may ask, why would a 70-year-old Canadian flag be in the hands of a young soldier at Dieppe? It is known that soldiers of the First World War would carry their flag into battle as a matter of pride and morale. Those who survived to bring their flag home often gave it to another young soldier heading off to fight in the Second World War, perhaps as a sign of good luck. These flags were carried with great significance, and with the hopes it would help them return home. Given the age of this flag, it’s probable this Red Ensign had been handed down through the generations to see more than one battle.
As the story goes, the American soldier understood the reverence his fellow Canadian would have had for the flag. He intended to return it to Canadian troops so it could find its way home, but he did not encounter any Canadians while in Europe and took the flag home to Columbus, Nebraska. The soldier eventually gave the flag to an acquaintance and fellow American Veteran, Charles Earl Lowry Sr. who had served during the Second World War working on the Alaskan-Canadian Highway. Charles is remembered as someone who had deep respect for the Canadian military and took care of the flag until he passed at age 93.
Charles’ son, Mike Lowry contacted The Royal Canadian Legion several years ago to donate the flag or perhaps see it returned to its rightful owner. Mike relayed the stories his father had told him about this special flag in hopes of preserving this piece of Canadian military history.
In a twist of fate, the Legion had planned a Pilgrimage of Remembrance to battlefields in Europe in the summer of 2019. The now nearly 150 year-old Red Ensign, carrying with it a history of pride and hope, was taken on that trip, back to the beaches of Dieppe, where a soldier had once carried this symbol of Canadian pride. A toast was made at the Dieppe landing site, in tribute to the flag and in remembrance of those who served and sacrificed.
The Dieppe Flag, as it has come to be known, now rests on display at The Royal Canadian Legion National Headquarters. From the efforts of so many, its journey had crossed generations, through friend and foe and great distances, over several countries and two continents, to return home.
Although the flag’s definitive lineage has now been lost to time, perhaps forever, today it represents all those who stood tall on that fateful morning on the Dieppe beach 80 years ago.
On November 11th, the Dieppe flag will be at the National War Memorial to let the fallen of Dieppe know that in our hearts, we have not forgotten – We Will Remember Them.
With thanks to Mike Lowry for sharing the Dieppe Flag and his family’s stories with us.
Canada’s Global TV produced a highly informative short documentary about the Raid at Dieppe on its 70th anniversary. View this lesson in history here…