b. 10/11/1908 Vancouver, Canada. d. 12/07/2000 Vancouver, Canada.
Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt (1908-2000) was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on 10th November 1908, the elder son of Lt. Colonel Cecil Merritt, who was killed at Ypres in the First World War. He entered the Royal Military College of Canada, H1866 in 1925 at the age of 16 and graduated with honours. He was commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada (a Militia regiment) in 1929 but read for the Bar and became a barrister in 1932.
He practiced law in Vancouver until mobilized at the outbreak of World War II. Merritt married, in 1937, Grace Graham, the daughter of Jamieson Bone of Belleville, Ontario; they had two sons and a daughter. 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.
He landed with the South Saskatchewan Regiment at Pourville, west of the main port, in the half-light of early morning on August 19th 1942. Their objective was to seize a beach-head and capture the high ground between Pourville and Dieppe. Landing in one wave, they were at first virtually unopposed, but heavy firing broke out as they scaled the sea wall and advanced into Pourville.
The intention had been to land astride the river Scie which there flows into the Channel. Unfortunately, the effect of surprise was nullified when the Navy landed the entire unit west of the river. This meant that those companies whose task was to capture the high ground to the east had first to cross the Scie by a bridge which was under heavy fire from their objective. Soon it was carpeted with dead and the advance came to a halt.
Seeing the situation, Merritt took off his helmet, walked on to the bridge and shouted: “Come on, these Germans can’t hit a thing – let’s go!” Apparently oblivious to the enemy fire, he strolled across waving his helmet to encourage his men forward. In small groups they raced over the bridge while others swam the river and made for the enemy-held heights.
The opposition was heavy, and with increasing casualties among leaders, progress was slow. Merritt himself led several successful attacks on the well-sited pill boxes from which the enemy covered the open hillside. But without artillery the heavily fortified main positions could not be breached.
After one attempt, Merritt carried a wounded officer back through machine gun fire to relative safety. Shortly after 9 am, orders for withdrawal were received from the Force Commander. Casualties were heavy as they pulled back to the beach, where Merritt organised a rearguard to cover the evacuation of the Canadian 6th Brigade.
The official history records that throughout the day Merritt was “in the forefront of the bitter struggle around Pourville, exposing himself recklessly and displaying an energy almost incredible”. Thanks to Merritt, the greater part of two battalions was successfully re-embarked, though many of the men were wounded. But Merritt’s group could not be brought off. It held out until ammunition was running low and there was no chance of evacuation or of doing further damage to the enemy. At 1.30 pm, disdaining to raise a white flag, Merritt sent a German prisoner to invite the enemy to come forward and take the surrender. Subsequently, Merritt himself did not prove a tractable prisoner. Soon after capture, his exhausted men were ordered to form up by their guards.
As they resentfully slouched to obey, Merritt intervened with a roar of “As you were!” He called their sergeant-major to him and in blistering terms told him that never, under any circumstances, would he tolerate sloppiness on parade. In an instant, CSM “Dinty” Moore became the familiar terror of the parade ground, and the men, finding their faltering military pride and a new sense of defiance to the enemy, formed up as if on an Aldershot square.
Merritt’s attitude to his captors soon resulted in his being sent to the harsh camp for habitual escapers in Colditz. In 1945, as the Allied advance drew near, it was feared that the Germans would kill the inmates. Merritt took part in planning a break-out in which the prisoners would form a fighting unit under his command. ts company commanders included such stalwarts as Captain C H Upham, the New Zealand double VC. There was said to have been some disappointment among them when the arrival of an Allied column denied them their last opportunity to strike at their captors. After the war, Merritt was mentioned in despatches for his leadership while a prisoner of war.
The announcement of the award of the Victoria Cross to Merritt, published in The London Gazette of October 2nd, 1942, spoke of his “matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership” and concluded with these words: “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.” Merritt’s VC was the first to a Canadian soldier in the Second World War. On his return to Canada in 1945, Merritt won the seat for the Vancouver-Burrard constituency as a Conservative. Following the re-election of the Liberals in 1949, Merritt, who had not greatly enjoyed being a back-bench MP, happily returned to his legal practice and rejoined the militia, commanding his original regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.
Merritt died in Vancouver on 12th July 2000, aged 91. He was buried in Ocean View Cemetery, Burnaby, British Columbia. His medal group comprising of the Victoria Cross, 1939-45 Star, Defence Medal (1939-45), Canadian Volunteer Service Medal (1939-45) with 2 clasps: “Maple Leaf” – “Dieppe”, War Medal (1939-45) + MiD Oakleaf, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953), Canadian Centennial Medal (1967), Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal (1977), 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal (1992) and Efficiency Decoration (ED) with “Canada” clasp are held and displayed by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: OCEAN VIEW CEMETERY, BURNABY, CANADA.
Bill Mullen – Image of the Merritt VC Grave in Ocean View Cemetery, Burnaby.
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Plan.