402 Squadron honours Dieppe veteran
By Martin Zeilig
For Clarizza Cole, watching her grandfather Elmer Cole, a Second World War veteran, being honoured in Winnipeg by 402 Squadron on August 17, 2018, was an “awesome” experience.
“He is our number one role model with his optimism,” she said.
Mr. Cole was invited to 17 Wing in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for a presentation and tour in honour of his shared history with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 402 Squadron. Mr. Cole, 98, and the squadron were both involved in the historic Dieppe Raid seventy-six years ago. During the battle Mr. Cole, a driver/mechanic in the First Calgary Tank Regiment, landed on the beach while 402 Squadron aircraft fought overhead.
“[Mr. Cole] mentioned he recalled seeing 402 Squadron Spitfires flying over top of him in Dieppe,” Major Darren Michaud, 402 Squadron’s acting commanding officer, told CBC Manitoba, “and it was just a casual inquiry to see if he could be hosted here. Given the fact that it’s the 76th anniversary [of the Dieppe raid] we figured it would be an excellent chance to honour one of the few surviving [Second World War] vets.”
For this special event, Mr. Cole was transported from his home in Brandon to the Brandon Airport in a 1941 Chevrolet staff car, on loan from the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, also located in Brandon. He then flew to Winnipeg onboard a Dash-8, the aircraft currently used by 402 Squadron to train air combat systems operators and airborne electronic sensor operators.
In Winnipeg, Colonel Eric Charron, commander of 17 Wing; Major Michaud; Chief Warrant Officer Jerome Rossignol, 17 Wing CWO greeted Mr. Cole and members of his family, including two great-great-granddaughters.
During the brief ceremony, Major Michaud presented Mr. Cole with a squadron flag signed by all the members of the squadron. Mr. Cole was also presented with a shadow box that included a photo of the Dash-8, and a squadron coin numbered 120, which is the tail number of a currently-flying Mustang 5B, a type of fighter aircraft used by 402 Squadron.
After lunch, Mr. Cole and his family members toured 402 Squadron’s training facilities.
Mr. Cole was born in Roche Percėe, Saskatchewan on December 22, 1919, according to a provided biography. He started working at age 15, leaving school with an eighth grade education. In 1940 he joined the South Saskatchewan Regiment, an infantry unit, completing basic training in Winnipeg. In February 1941 he returned to Brandon, Manitoba, for mechanical training, transferring to the Calgary Regiment, an armoured regiment, as a trooper on the Churchill tank (now The King’s Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC))
Mr. Cole travelled overseas to England where underwent further training until August 19, 1942, when the Dieppe Raid occurred. Mr. Cole fought through the battle only to surrender alongside thousands of Canadian soldiers, becoming a prisoner of war. He spent three years as a prisoner and was released in 1945 when the war ended.
Operation Jubilee (as the Dieppe raid was called) was the first Canadian Army engagement in the European theatre of the war, designed to test the Allies’ ability to launch amphibious assaults against Adolf Hitler’s “Fortress Europe”.
The raid was a disaster: More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed, and thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. The sacrifices of Canadians at Dieppe are well remembered.
“Mr. Cole, his regiment, everybody at Dieppe set a standard for the Canadian Armed Forces which we should carry forward today,” Major Michaud said in his welcoming speech. “It’s very important that we keep this in mind. Because it’s easy enough to say that we are just a training squadron. However, we are training airmen and airwomen to support actions very similar to what Mr. Cole experienced. This is an ongoing effort and we have a very high standard to live up to—as was demonstrated by Mr. Cole 76 years ago.”
“I’m so honoured to be here to be able to remember the comrades that we left behind on the beach,” said Mr. Cole during his brief remarks. “Some 900 got killed that day. I want to let the wives and children know they’re remembered.”
“It’s wonderful what the Air Force has done for me, inviting me . . . to get flown in here by a plane and alI,” he added. “I won’t sleep for a week now after this.”
Martin Zellig is a journalist with Voxair, 17 Wing’s base newspaper, where this article was originally published.
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