Victoria Cross - Second World War, 1939-1945

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt

Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on 10 November 1908. In 1929 he graduated from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and eventually enrolled in the Militia. When the Second World War began, Merritt was serving as an officer in The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. In 1942 he became the commanding officer of The South Saskatchewan Regiment (SSR). On 19 August 1942, the SSR was one of the infantry battalions from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division that participated in the raid on the French port of Dieppe. The battalion landed on Green Beach immediately in front of Pourville, a village just to the west of Dieppe. In order to reach its objectives east of the village, the Canadians were obliged to cross a bridge over the River Scie, which flowed through Pourville to the sea. The bridge and its approaches were swept by German artillery, machine gun and mortar fire coming from the heights dominating the eastern bank of the Scie, which brought the progress of the SSR to a halt. At this point, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt came forward and took charge, walking calmly across the bridge at least four times under a storm of fire to conduct parties of his men to the eastern side. He then organized and led uphill assaults on several of the concrete “pillboxes” and other enemy positions that looked down on the bridge and the village, and succeeded in clearing them. Throughout the morning, Merritt energetically led his men, exposing himself recklessly to German fire. Although twice wounded, he organized the withdrawal of his battalion from the Pourville beaches, and mounted a rear guard that ensured that the greater part of the SSR and Queen’s Own The Cameron Highlanders of Canada were re-embarked for England. Merritt and the men of the rear guard could not be brought off, and were compelled to surrender.

For his exemplary leadership and valour, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt was awarded the Victoria Cross. Merritt died in Vancouver, British Columbia on 12 July 2000.

Citation

“For matchless gallantry and inspiring leadership whilst commanding his battalion during the Dieppe raid on the 19th August, 1942.

From the point of landing, his unit’s advance had to be made across a bridge in Pourville which was swept by very heavy machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire: the first parties were mostly destroyed and the bridge thickly covered by their bodies. A daring lead was required; waving his helmet, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt rushed forward shouting ‘Come on over! There’s nothing to worry about here.’

He thus personally led the survivors of at least four parties in turn across the bridge. Quickly organising these, he led them forward and when held by enemy pill-boxes he again headed rushes which succeeded in clearing them. In one case he himself destroyed the occupants of the post by throwing grenades into it. After several of his runners became casualties, he himself kept contact with his different positions.

Although twice wounded Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt continued to direct the unit’s operations with great vigour and determination and while organising the withdrawal he stalked a sniper with a Bren gun and silenced him. He then coolly gave orders for the departure and announced his intention to hold off and ‘get even with’ the enemy. When last seen he was collecting Bren and Tommy guns and preparing a defensive position which successfully covered the withdrawal from the beach.

Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt is now reported to be a Prisoner of War.

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.”

(London Gazette, no.35729, 2 October 1942)

 

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