Charles Merritt

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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.

Victoria Cross highest military decoration awarded for valour in armed forces of various Commonwealth countries

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system. It is awarded for gallantry "in the presence of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces. It may be awarded posthumously. It was previously awarded to Commonwealth countries, most of which have established their own honours systems and no longer recommend British honours. It may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command although no civilian has received the award since 1879. Since the first awards were presented by Queen Victoria in 1857, two-thirds of all awards have been personally presented by the British monarch. These investitures are usually held at Buckingham Palace.

Efficiency Decoration

The Efficiency Decoration, post-nominal letters TD for recipients serving in the Territorial Army of the United Kingdom or ED for those serving in the Auxiliary Military Forces, was instituted in 1930 for award to part-time officers after twenty years of service as an efficient and thoroughly capable officer. The decoration superseded the Volunteer Officers' Decoration, the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers' Decoration and the Territorial Decoration.

Canadians citizens of Canada

Canadians are people identified with the country of Canada. This connection may be residential, legal, historical or cultural. For most Canadians, several of these connections exist and are collectively the source of their being Canadian.

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.

Vancouver City in British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver is a coastal seaport city in western Canada, located in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia. As the most populous city in the province, the 2016 census recorded 631,486 people in the city, up from 603,502 in 2011. The Greater Vancouver area had a population of 2,463,431 in 2016, making it the third-largest metropolitan area in Canada. Vancouver has the highest population density in Canada with over 5,400 people per square kilometre, which makes it the fifth-most densely populated city with over 250,000 residents in North America behind New York City, Guadalajara, San Francisco, and Mexico City according to the 2011 census. Vancouver is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities in Canada according to that census; 52% of its residents have a first language other than English. Roughly 30% of the city's inhabitants are of Chinese heritage. Vancouver is classed as a Beta global city.

British Columbia Province of Canada

British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. With an estimated population of 5.034 million as of 2019, it is Canada's third-most populous province.

Second Battle of Ypres A battle in 1915 during the First World War

During World War I, the Second Battle of Ypres was fought from 22 April – 25 May 1915 for control of the strategic Flemish town of Ypres in western Belgium. The First Battle of Ypres had been fought the previous autumn. The Second Battle of Ypres was the first mass use by Germany of poison gas on the Western Front. It also marked the first time a former colonial force defeated a European power in Europe.

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.

Barrister lawyer specialized in court representation in Wales, England and some other jurisdictions

A barrister is a type of lawyer in common law jurisdictions. Barristers mostly specialise in courtroom advocacy and litigation. Their tasks include taking cases in superior courts and tribunals, drafting legal pleadings, researching the philosophy, hypothesis and history of law, and giving expert legal opinions. Often, barristers are also recognised as legal scholars.

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.

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.

Canadian Army land component of the Canadian Armed Forces

The Canadian Army is the command responsible for the operational readiness of the conventional ground forces of the Canadian Armed Forces. As of 2018 the Army has 23,000 regular soldiers, about 17,000 reserve soldiers, including 5,000 rangers, for a total of 40,000 soldiers. The Army is supported by 3,000 civilian employees. It maintains regular forces units at bases across Canada, and is also responsible for the Army Reserve, the largest component of the Primary Reserve. The Commander of the Canadian Army and Chief of the Army Staff is Lieutenant-General Jean-Marc Lanthier.

Isle of Wight County and island of England

The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is in the English Channel, between 2 and 5 miles off the coast of Hampshire, separated by the Solent. The island has resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times, and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland and chines. The island is designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

In March 1942, Merritt assumed command of the South Saskatchewan Regiment, which he led 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.

Prisoner of war Person who is held in custody by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict

A prisoner of war (POW) is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant, who is held captive by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to 1660.

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.

Scie (river) river that flow from the plateau of the southern Pays de Caux in the Seine-Maritime département of Haute-Normandie into the English Channel

The Scie is a river that flows from the plateau of the southern Pays de Caux in the Seine-Maritime département of Normandy into the English Channel.

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, and had two sons and a daughter.

Death and burial

LTC 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 Lt-Col 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.

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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

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