Charles Merritt

Last updated

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt
VCCharlesCecilIngersollMerritt.jpg
Photo of Charles Merritt from The Times
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Vancouver—Burrard
In office
1945–1949
Preceded by Gerry McGeer
Succeeded by Lorne MacDougall
Personal details
Born(1908-11-10)10 November 1908
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Died12 July 2000(2000-07-12) (aged 91)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Political party Progressive Conservative
Awards Victoria Cross
Mentioned in Despatches
Efficiency Decoration
Military service
Allegiance Canada
Branch/service Canadian Army
Years of service1929–1945
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Commands The South Saskatchewan Regiment
Battles/wars World War II

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt VC, ED (10 November 1908 – 12 July 2000) was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross and Member of Parliament.

Contents

Early life

Cecil Merritt, Royal Military College of Canada cadet Cecil Merritt, Royal Military College of Canada cadet.jpg
Cecil Merritt, Royal Military College of Canada cadet

Merritt was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on 10 November 1908, [1] the son of Captain Cecil Mack Merritt, who was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres, on 23 April 1915. He entered the Royal Military College of Canada, H1866 in 1925 at the age of 16 and graduated with honours.

Career

He was commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada (a Militia regiment) in 1929. Merritt read for the Bar and became a barrister in 1932. He practised law in Vancouver until mobilized at the outbreak of World War II.

Military service

Merritt served as an officer in the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. At the outbreak of war, Merritt was promoted to the rank of major and in December sailed for England. In the next two years he held a variety of staff and regimental appointments and attended the War Staff Course at Camberley in June 1941.

From GSO2 of the 3rd Canadian Division, in March 1942, he was promoted to command The South Saskatchewan Regiment, Canadian Army, (Canadian Infantry Corps). Two months later, they moved to the Isle of Wight to train for the Dieppe raid.

Merritt led his regiment in the Dieppe raid on 19 August 1942. Before being taken as a prisoner of war, Merritt was wounded twice. For his extreme bravery and inspirational leadership under fire, Merritt was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Two experienced British Commando units (Numbers 3 and 4) were assigned to land before dawn to destroy German heavy gun batteries on promontories east and west of the port, a task in which they were largely successful. Two Canadian battalions were scheduled to land at the same time to the immediate east and west of Dieppe to give land ward support to the attacks on the guns and to form a secure perimeter for the main force to land.

The right flank Canadian battalion assigned to Green Beach was the South Saskatchewan Regiment commanded by Merritt. His objectives were Pourville, west of the port, then the cliffs above the village.

His force crossed the Channel in Royal Navy destroyers, transferred to landing craft 10 miles offshore and reached Green Beach on time, in near darkness and unopposed. But the main part of the battalion was landed on the wrong side of the River Scie estuary and faced crossing a narrow bridge through Pourville in order to approach their objectives on the cliffs.

By then alert to the situation, the German defenders targeted the bridge with machine-gun and mortar fire. Initial Canadian attempts failed to storm the bridge, leaving it covered with dead and wounded. Merritt led the next rush forward, waving his steel helmet with the rallying shout, "Come on over. There's nothing to it!"

His audacity took the enemy by surprise; one group of men followed him over the bridge and others used the girders to cross. Merritt soon had most of his surviving men on the far bank, but shortage of mortar ammunition and lack of communications to the destroyers to call for supporting fire made any further advance impossible.

LCol Cecil Merritt, VC, South Saskatchewan Regiment, captured at Dieppe, upon his return to England, April 1945 CecilMerritt1945.jpg
LCol Cecil Merritt, VC, South Saskatchewan Regiment, captured at Dieppe, upon his return to England, April 1945

Meanwhile, the company landed on the west bank of the Scie had reached its objective and sent a success signal to the operation command ship. This and one from Lord Lovat's Number 4 Commando were the only two success signals sent in the entire operation.

Finding all moves towards his objectives blocked by concrete "pillboxes", Merritt led an attack on each in turn, personally killing the occupants of one by throwing grenades through the enemy's firing ports. When the last enemy strong point had been silenced, Merritt had been twice wounded and his battalion reduced to fewer than 300 men.

He held on to an improvised perimeter nevertheless, and kept contact with his section positions by moving from one to another after his runners had been killed. When the time came to move back to the beach, Merritt coolly gave instructions for an orderly withdrawal and announced his intention to hold off the enemy from a rearguard position in a small bandstand near the beach to cover the re-embarkation.

The South Saskatchewan battalion left 84 dead on Green Beach and 89 more, including Merritt and eight other officers, were taken prisoner. His citation for award of the Victoria Cross concluded: "To this commanding officer's personal daring the success of his unit's operations and the safe re-embarkation of a large portion of it were chiefly due." [2]

Merritt was sent to prison camp Oflag VII-B at Eichstätt in Bavaria. Together with 64 others, he escaped through a 120 ft tunnel during the night of 3–4 June 1943. All were recaptured after a massive manhunt. Merritt was sentenced to 14 days' solitary confinement before being transferred to Oflag IV-C at Colditz Castle. [3] He remarked after being freed: "My war lasted six hours. There are plenty of Canadians who went all the way from the landings in Sicily to the very end." He was dismissive of his time as a prisoner of war with the words: "It was an enforced idleness. It cannot be translated into virtue."

Lt. Col Cecil Merritt plaque at the corner of Merritt St. & Rockingham Ave. in Saskatoon's Montgomery Place neighborhood. CecilMerritt.jpg
Lt. Col Cecil Merritt plaque at the corner of Merritt St. & Rockingham Ave. in Saskatoon's Montgomery Place neighborhood.

Merritt is also remembered by a road called Merritt Drive in the City of Windsor, Ontario - the city which provided the Essex Scottish Regiment who assaulted 'Red Beach', Dieppe, as the South Saskatchewans were assaulting 'Green Beach' It is next to Tilston Drive, which refers to Major Fred Tilston VC, of the Essex Scottish Regiment who received his VC in Germany in 1945.

Postwar

After taking his release from military service in 1945, Merritt served as a Member of Parliament, being elected to the House of Commons of Canada, serving the electoral district of Vancouver—Burrard from 1945 to 1949.

Returning from Ottawa, he resumed his law practice in Vancouver and was appointed honorary colonel of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada in 1951.

Merritt served on the board of directors of Mount Pleasant War Memorial Community Cooperative Association from 1950 to 1994.

He became a valued rugby player for the Meraloma Club. [4] Brother officers spoke with awe of his skill at the informal hockey game shinny.

Family

In 1937, he married Grace Graham, the daughter of Jamieson Bone of Belleville, Ontario; they had two sons and a daughter.

Death and burial

LCol Merritt died at the age of 91 in Vancouver on 12 July 2000.

He was buried at Ocean View Cemetery, 4000 Imperial Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada in the Royal Section, Plot 49, Grave #5.

Medals

The LCol Merritt, V.C., medal set, which consists of the Victoria Cross, the 1939–45 Star, the Defence Medal, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Overseas and Dieppe clasps, the British War Medal 1939–45 with Mentioned in Despatches (MID), the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, the Canadian Centennial Medal 1967, the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977, the Canada 125th Anniversary Medal and the Efficiency Decoration with Canada Bar, was donated to the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, some time after his death on 12 July 2000. [5]

Legacy

Wall of Honour, Royal Military College of Canada Wall of Honour, Royal Military College of Canada.jpg
Wall of Honour, Royal Military College of Canada

Merritt, a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada, is listed on the Wall of Honour in Kingston, Ontario.

Four streets in the City of Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, are named in honour of Merritt. Charles Crescent, Cecil Crescent, Ingersoll Crescent, and Merritt Crescent.

In 2017, the First Year Flight of Montcalm Squadron was renamed from Savage Flight to Merritt Flight, in honour of this most distinguished graduate.

Related Research Articles

Dieppe Raid World War II battle on north coast of France

Operation Jubilee or the Dieppe Raid was an Allied amphibious attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, northern France in the Second World War. Over 6,050 infantry, predominantly Canadian, supported by a regiment of tanks, were put ashore from a naval force operating under protection of Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters.

2nd Canadian Division during World War II

The 2nd Canadian Division, an infantry division of the Canadian Army, was mobilized for war service on 1 September 1939 at the outset of World War II. Adopting the designation of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, it was initially composed of volunteers within brigades established along regional lines, though a halt in recruitment in the early months of the war caused a delay in the formation of brigade and divisional headquarters. With questions concerning overseas deployment resolved, the division's respective commands were formed in May and June 1940, and at British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's request, the division was deployed to the United Kingdom between 1 August and 25 December 1940, forming part of the Canadian Corps.

Robert Shankland Canadian soldier

Robert Shankland was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

2nd Canadian Division Canadian Army regional formation

The 2nd Canadian Division is a formation of the Canadian Army in the province of Quebec, Canada. The present command was created 2013 when Land Force Quebec Area was re-designated. The main unit housed in this division is the Royal 22nd Regiment based at CFB Valcartier near Quebec City, which is the biggest regiment in the Canadian Army.

Ernest Smith Canadian soldier of World War II, recipient of the Victoria Cross

Ernest Alvia "Smokey" Smith was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the last living Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross.

David Vivian Currie Canadian military officer recipient of the Victoria Cross

David Vivian Currie, was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Walter Potter Ritchie Recipient of the Victoria Cross

Walter Potter Ritchie VC was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. The award was made for his actions during the Battle of the Somme in the First World War.

James Cleland Richardson Recipient of the Victoria Cross

James (Jimmy) Cleland Richardson VC was a Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Robert Gordon McBeath, VC was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious medal that can be awarded to members of British military forces. Following the end of World War I McBeath married and emigrated to Canada where he was killed in the line of duty while working as a police officer in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment) Regimental Museum in Brampton, ON Canada

The Lorne Scots is a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army. It is part of the 4th Canadian Division's 32 Canadian Brigade Group.

The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada infantry regiment of the Primary Reserve of the Canadian Army

The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada is a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The regiment is subordinate to 39 Canadian Brigade Group, 3rd Canadian Division. Based at the Seaforth Armoury on Burrard Street in Vancouver, the regiment serves in both times of war and civil emergency, such as disaster relief after earthquakes or floods. It also contributes individual volunteers or "augmentees" to Canadian Forces operations around the world.

The South Saskatchewan Regiment

The South Saskatchewan Regiment was an infantry regiment of the Canadian Forces formed in 1936 by the amalgamation of The Weyburn Regiment and The Saskatchewan Border Regiment. It was reduced to nil strength and placed on the Supplementary Order of Battle in 1968. They participated in the 1942 Dieppe Raid, during which they undertook a supplementary, secret mission to guard, and if necessary, kill, a radar technician trying to discover vital information on the German radar station outside Dieppe.

The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada

The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada is a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army. It is part of the 3rd Canadian Division's 38 Canadian Brigade Group and is headquartered at the Minto Armoury in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is the oldest highland regiment in Western Canada.

Montgomery Place is a post World War II community erected for veterans outside Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which consists primarily of residential homes. It was amalgamated within the city of Saskatoon in 1956, and is now a National Historic Site. Montgomery Place has an average household size of 3.2 persons, and homeownership is at 93.7%. According to MLS data, the average sale price of a home as of 2013 was $403,840. It was named in honour of Field Marshal The 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, the famous Ulster Scots commander in the British Army during the Second World War.

The Saskatchewan Border Regiment was an infantry regiment of the Canadian Army based in southern Saskatchewan.

The Weyburn Regiment was a regiment created in 1924 from the reorganization of The South Saskatchewan Regiment. In 1936, the Weyburn Regiment was amalgamated with The Saskatchewan Border Regiment to reform the South Saskatchewan Regiment.

Hautot-sur-Mer Commune in Normandy, France

Hautot-sur-Mer is a commune in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region in north-western France.

4th Canadian Infantry Brigade

The 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade of the Canadian Army active during World War I and World War II. Raised in 1915, the brigade formed part of the 2nd Canadian Division and fought on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918. The brigade was re-raised in 1939 for service during World War II and subsequently took part in actions at Dieppe in 1942 and then in north-west Europe during 1944 and 1945.

The 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade of the Canadian Army that fought during World War I and World War II. Raised in 1915, it formed part of the 2nd Canadian Division and fought on the Western Front during World War I before being disbanded. Later, it was re-raised in September 1939 and subsequently took part in Allied operations in north-west Europe in 1944 and 1945.

References

  1. "DHH - Victoria Cross Bios - Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt". cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  2. "No. 35729". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 October 1942. pp. 4323–4324.
  3. Colditz - The Full Story Appendix 1 by Pat Reid
  4. "Meraloma Club". meraloma.com. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  5. from 'War Museum.ca - Backgrounder' Also Press release