Reginald Wise is no carpenter. And he doesn’t consider himself particularly crafty.
But for the last week or so, the 88-year-old has been a little bit of both, hand-making 100 small wooden crosses that he plans to take to France with him in August.
Wise, a veteran of the 40th Royal Marine Commando, will be marching at the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe, where he fought as part of Britain’s elite paramilitary force, the Green Berets, during the Second World War.
The Battle of Dieppe took place Aug. 19, 1942. Forces such as Wise’s from the United Kingdom, as well as those from Canada, the U.S. and France launched a raid on the German-occupied port of Dieppe.
The attack was unsuccessful in that more than half of the 6,000 men who went ashore were either killed, captured or wounded. However, it’s been argued that the lessons learned there paved the way for the successful D-Day landing in Normandy in June 1944 and the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation the following year.
“When I talk to people, they’re not aware of Dieppe,” says Wise. “I would like to raise awareness about how important this was.”
While it’s not the first time Wise has travelled to Dieppe to honour his fallen comrades and reunite with other survivors, it will be the first time he’ll be placing crosses – complete with a poppy at the centre and a small Canadian flag sticker – on the graves of Canadian troops.
He’s hoping relatives will get in touch with him so he can write their loved one’s names on one of his wooden crosses and match it to the right headstone.
He’s also offering to take photos of headstones for family or friends who can’t make it overseas themselves, and is extending his offer to relatives of the British forces: Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, #3 and #4 Army Commandos and Royal Navy.
The Canadian regiments Wise is looking for relatives of include: the 2nd Canadian Division, 14th Canadian Army Tank Battalion, Royal Regiment of Canada, Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), South Saskatchewan Regiment, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, Essex Scottish, Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, and Les Fusiliers Mont Royal.
He acknowledges Canadian relatives of the hundreds of Dieppe casualties could be anywhere.
“But I hope I can get at least a few from around the Lower Mainland,” Wise says.
Those interested are asked to contact Earle Fraser at the Cloverdale legion at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-574-5300.