Visiting the clifftop castle at Dieppe, France: vantage point to witness a violent past
A looming fixture during the Dieppe Raid, 1942
This fortress overlooking the English Channel (French: La Manche ) has been the witness of some very sanguinary, historical events over the centuries.
Among North Americans, the most well known of the these events occurred on the beaches of Dieppe, which the castle overlooks, in 1942, during the tragic Dieppe Raid.
Dating originally from 1188, the castle at Dieppe's clifftop underwent its first major event only seven years later in 1195: it was destroyed by the forces of King Philippe II. In fact, the oldest surviving part of the castle is the keep, dating from circa 1360.
During the Middle Ages the castle was threatened by English forces, not surprising perhaps, given the relative proximity of England to the Normandy (French: Normandie) coast. Interestingly, the castle also defended the town from hostile shipping from the County of Flanders, then a regional power. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the castle was enlarged.
In World Wars One and Two, the castle retained a military use. It was on the beaches at Dieppe, which the castle overlooks, that on 19 August, 1942, the famous (or infamous) Dieppe Raid cost many hundreds of Canadian personnel their lives. In retrospect talked up as a valuable training ground for the Normandy Landings of June 1944, the tragic losses (1) on the beach at German-occupied Dieppe spurred much, deep soul-searching — official and private — for years afterwards. The (then) acting Vice-Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, whose project the Dieppe Raid substantially was, later received the inevitable criticism for the sanguinary consequences of the Raid, some of which was undoubtedly with the benefit of hindsight. However, it remained the case that the Royal Canadian Legion made of point of avoiding Lord Mountbatten on his visits to Canada after World War Two (2).
At the foot of the castle stands a memorial to the Canadian fallen at Dieppe; on the monument are recorded words which Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney deemed appropriate during a commemorative visit.
The castle is now a museum and attracts many visitors. Part of the museum contains a well-appointed art gallery. Its ivory collection is particularly rich.
(1) Indeed, total Canadian casualties on that day, killed, wounded or captured, were 3367.
(2) Heavy Canadian losses at Passchendaele in World War One, which the Imperial command subsequently allowed to remain opaque to the Canadian public, form another of a series of events which led to demands for Canada's constitutional link to Great Britain to be loosened.
Also worth seeing
In Dieppe itself, the monumental church of Saint-Jacques has a long and tumultuous history; the café des Tribunaux was a meeting place for artists and writers. A ferry crossing from the port of Dieppe serves the English port of Newhaven.
Varengeville-sur-Mer (distance: 12 kilometres); an historic house was the residence of shipping magnate Jehan Ango.
How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Dieppe : 214 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris (Gare Saint-Lazare ) and Dieppe. You are advised check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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