Ken Curry, Hamilton’s last veteran of the raid on Dieppe, died on Friday at the age of 97.
Curry’s death comes almost 78 years after the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) joined the Aug. 19, 1942 raid on the beach in Dieppe, France during World War 2.
Of the 582 members in the Hamilton unit, 197 were killed on the beach — a third of the unit — and many became prisoners of war. Only 211 returned to England, half of which returned wounded.
Curry joined the RHLI at the age of 15. He lied so that he could fight. The minimum age was 16.
He told CBC News in 2018 that his buddies were heading overseas and he wanted to go too.
An officer at Canadian Forces Base Borden told him, however, that if he got a note from his mother, giving him permission, then he too could head to war.
On the beach at Dieppe
Curry said he was 20 years old when he was lying on the beach at Dieppe.
“I went overseas,” he said, “and I remember clearly lying on the beach there and bullets were flying and there’s guys dropping around, you could see them. It was just terrible and I thought to myself, ‘Man oh man why did I ever let my mother write that it’s ok to go overseas.'”
He said “when I was at Dieppe, it was a terrible place when we landed. They dropped the ramps and we flew off and went into a hail of bullets and shrapnel and shells and machine gunning from the air.”
We didn’t have a snowball’s chance of getting through. We did what we could,” he said.” I could see men dying around me and others were yelling and badly wounded, but there’s nothing you could do for them until we withdrew and we put what we could on the boats and got on the boats ourselves.”
“Men were dropping all around me,” said Curry. “I was very, very fortunate.”
Prisoner of war
Curry became a prisoner of war (PoW) when a German soldier popped up behind a rock, put his gun up, and told Curry to put his hands up.
He was a PoW for about three years until an American jeep came by and brought him and others to a plane that would take them back to England.
“My happiest moment is when we were liberated. And I can remember that. We were up in East Prussia,” Curry said in 2015, describing how the German soldiers abandoned the PoWs when American fighters showed up.
“We ran in all directions,” said Curry.
The Germans had been marching Curry and his fellow PoWs, so when they were freed, they were in bad shape. He said, when they approached a village, the mayor came out and surrendered the village to the soldiers. They exchanged food and shelter for a note from Curry that the village had treated them well.
“We had a terrible time, but [the mayor] fed us like anything,” Curry said.
After that, he had the happiest moment of his life. He returned home to Norma, his wife.
“I was married just before I was captured. And my wife came down, and God, I couldn’t explain. That has got to be my happiest moment when I saw her. I get broken up when I think of it,” Curry said.
A release from the city of Hamilton said he returned to Hamilton after the war to work as an electrician for Stelco and was also a volunteer firefighter in Stoney Creek.
After retiring, Ken moved to British Columbia with his late wife Norma to be closer to family.