Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak on motion No. 143 put forward by the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona.
The hon. member has suggested the government should honour the veterans of the Dieppe raid by striking a distinctive medal for these former members of the Canadian forces. I share the hon. member's desire and would like to add my personal commitment to see Canada's Dieppe veterans given proper recognition for their part in the ill-fated attack on Dieppe. These Canadians deserve every expression of our gratitude. However, as I will explain, there is already a process under way to resolve the issue and I feel the process deserves at least a chance to succeed. All Canadians would undoubtedly agree that Dieppe veterans should hold a special place in our history.
All members of the naval, ground and air forces that took part in the raid on the coast of France in 1942 exhibited great courage and bravery in the face of formidable circumstances. This is especially true of the members of the Second Canadian Infantry Division who disembarked on the beaches of Dieppe. These Canadians were proud to have been selected to breach Hitler's so-called Fortress of Europe but on that fateful day things went terribly wrong.
For our nation August 19, 1942 was one of the costliest days of the second world war. Of the almost 5,000 Canadians who embarked on the operation more than two-thirds suffered casualties. This included 907 Canadians who lost their lives and 1,946 Canadians who were taken as prisoners of war. Little more than 2,000 returned to England, many of whom were wounded.
Dieppe therefore took a terrible toll on our wartime forces that Canadians have not and will not forget.
In recent months interested Canadians have been taking up the cause of Dieppe veterans. Aware that many of the Dieppe veterans did not receive as many medals as their comrades, these Canadians find it difficult to understand why Dieppe veterans have not been given greater recognition for their participation in the battle. Their concern is legitimate and understandable. In point of fact Dieppe veterans definitely appear to have been short-changed.
On the other hand, we must respect that during the second world war Canada and other Commonwealth countries agreed to a unified system of military medals. Since the battle of Dieppe was a separate military activity outside any particular campaign, the efforts of veterans were not recognized by a campaign medal. There is the source of this unfortunate discrepancy. Furthermore Dieppe veterans were eligible for personal awards for acts of valour. Two veterans, Cecil Merritt and John Weir Foote, received the Victoria Cross for their actions that day.
This is why I am prepared to support the amended motion that would read "a distinctive decoration" instead of "a distinctive medal".