On September 26, CTV Regina spent the day in Coronach as part of their Hometown Tour. At the end of the day, CTV’s Danelle Boivin made a Hometown Hero award presentation. The honour was awarded to Coronach resident, Cecil Keast, an 89 year old World War II veteran and prisoner of war. Keast was unable to accept the award. It was accepted by George Curran on his behalf.
The following excerpt appeared in the November 5, 2007 issue of the Triangle News
Cecil was a member of the Signal Platoon of the South Saskatchewan Regiment of the Canadian Infantry Corp.
Cecil said that one million of Canada’s eleven million total population at that time were involved in the war. Cecil left school to join the regiment at Weyburn in 1940. Cecil deployed overseas and served on the Regimental Command Post in Dieppe, in Operation Jubilee.
Operation Jubilee was a military operation that was doomed from its inception. It was an operation against a fully secured coast with little chance of success.
On August 19, 1942, 6,100 Allied troops were sent to assault German fortifications at Dieppe, France. Nearly 5,000 of those soldiers were Canadian. Only 2,000 Allied troops made it back to England. Thousands were wounded or captured.
Cecil recalls, “The Allies were looking for some success. In three years, they lost everything they touched; Hong Kong, Singapore, North Africa. . .”
907 Canadian soldiers lost their lives in a nine hour battle on the shores of France that day.
Cecil was among thousands of soldiers that were taken prisoner that day. Cecil said, “They just left us there.”
Cecil was a Prisoner of War for nearly 1000 days in very bad conditions. When I asked how they were treated, he said, “Not so very well. We were in handcuffs for 13 months.”
On the 65 anniversary of the raid on Dieppe, Cecil remembers it as the worst day in history for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Although this day has been marked as the greatest loss in Canadian Forces history, there were lessons learned. The Allies used this knowledge to gain a foothold on Europe on D-Day. Canadian soldiers continued to play an important part in the liberation of Europe.
Cecil has been awarded for the part he played at Dieppe in 1942.
In 1946, Cecil received an award that hangs in his office today. He received the award, “in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the combined attack on Dieppe.”
The plaque goes on to say, “During the Dieppe operation, 19 August 1942, Lance-Corporal Keast was a signaller with the South Saskatchewan Regiment. Throughout the action, encumbered by his No. 18 Set, and, in consequence, always presenting a conspicuous target for enemy snipers, he moved and operated his set often over fireswept ground, with great coolness and entire disregard for the fire of the enemy. His devotion to duty was of inestimable value in maintaining intercommunication. During the withdrawal near a pill box, four wounded men lay in the road, vulnerable to enemy fire. Keast organized a group of men at once to evacuate the wounded men leading the squad himself, improvising stretchers out of some old beds. Although bullets were striking all around him he disregarded them entirely. His calm assurance and his systematic manner helped complete the task quickly,. His fearlessness was an inspiration to all.”
In 1994, 52 years after being taken prisoner, Cecil received the Dieppe Bar to the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal.
In the letter from the Secretary of State, Lawrence MacAulay said, “For some fifty years, many veterans of the August 19, 1942 raid on Dieppe, had been asking that a distinctive combat decoration be struck to recognize their service during Operation Jubilee.
On August 19, 1994, recognition was given with the awarding of the Dieppe Bar, a wholly unprecedented initiative in Canada’s system of wartime honours and awards.
I speak on behalf of the Government of Canada when I extend the thanks of all Canadians for the service rendered to Canada by those who paved the way for the invasion of Normandy on the beaches of Dieppe.”
When Cecil was initially taken prisoner he was taken to Breslou, Poland. The name Breslau was used by Austria, Russia and Germany; it is known today as Wroclaw. While imprisoned Cecil was moved many times. A British fleet liberated Cecil and his fellow comrades in the movement leading up to the end of the war. The POWs were taken to Holland, to England and sometime later they were flown home to Canada.
Upon returning from the war, Cecil returned to Canada and settled into a peaceful life in Coronach. He served the area as a Supervisory Postmaster until his retirement in 1978.
Cecil married Isabel Greenwood in 1948 and their family includes their daughter Colleen Kessler, senior sciences teacher at the Coronach School, and her two children Shane and Mandy.
During the years he worked for the Post Office, he obtained the professional designation of Certified General Accountant and has operated Keast’s Accounting in Coronach since 1978. Cecil and his wife Isabel are planning retirement and currently winding up the long time accounting business.