DIEPPE, N.B. — It was officially code-named Operation Jubilee and the allied attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe was a pivotal moment in the Second World War. But 75 years later, a battle is brewing over just what to call the bloody assault that claimed the lives of nearly a thousand Canadian soldiers.
The Royal Canadian Mint issued a collector coin in May commemorating the Battle of Dieppe, prompting outcry from a New Brunswick veterans’ group that says the attack is called the Dieppe Raid.
After months of growing tension over the silver coin, which depicts a soldier rushing ashore with explosions in the distance, a truce has been called.
The mint said Monday it understands the concerns expressed by the veterans’ group and apologized if the coin offended anyone. It also plans to produce a Dieppe Raid collector coin in 2018.
But the current coin, roughly 28 grams of pure silver with a price tag of about $93, will continue to be sold as part of the mint’s Second World War battlefront series, something a military historian calls a mistake.
“That’s a bad idea,” Dieppe Military Veterans’ Association historian Ronald Cormier said. ”The coin is wrong. It’s like showing a picture of the Parliament Buildings and calling it the House of Commons. It’s inaccurate.”
Keith Brewer, executive director of the veterans’ group, said if the error is allowed to stand, history will be “changed forever.”
“The 913 Canadians who died on the beaches of Dieppe during the raid would be misrepresented in history,” he said. “That’s our objection.”
Although Brewer said he’s “not comfortable” with the mint’s plans to continue selling the flawed coin, he said he hopes the new Dieppe Raid coin will “offset” the previous coin’s impact.
The crux of the issue has to do with the difference between a raid and a battle, and what took place on Aug. 19, 1942.
“In a battle, you go and take ground and you try to hold it, like Vimy Ridge,” Brewer said. “But in raid, you go in and do your dirty work and you get out.”
A spokesman for the mint said it consulted with the Department of National Defence’s history and heritage directorate to confirm the accuracy of the coin before producing the commemorative item.
“We consulted … military historians on the design of the coin commemorating the 75th anniversary of Dieppe and they confirmed that using ‘The Battle of Dieppe’ … was appropriate,” Alex Reeves said in an email.
Despite the mint’s position that the coin was thoroughly vetted by military historians, the Crown corporation said it will review its design for a new Dieppe Raid coin with the New Brunswick veterans’ group.
But Cormier, who has studied the Second World War and the Dieppe Raid for decades, said he finds it hard to believe that a military historian would have signed off on the coin.
Both the Canadian War Museum and Veterans Affairs Canada refer to the attack on the French port city as the Dieppe Raid.
Dalhousie University history professor Christopher Bell, who specialized in military history, said it should be called the Dieppe Raid.
“I can’t recall ever hearing it referred to as the Battle of Dieppe,” he said.
The mint produced 7,500 coins referring to the Battle of Dieppe, about half of which have been sold so far.