Over the past three years, whenever I have given a presentation about Jeanne Chevalier and her family, I have usually provided a listing of her descendants who are famous enough to be known in the USA, Quebec and France: Rene Lévesque, Celine Dion, and Jack Kerouac. Only recently have I started to include the name of Lieutenant Jean-Jacques Lévesque.
Every year on August 19, there is a commemoration of the disastrous Allied raid on Dieppe that took place on that date in 1942. The raid, known as “Operation Jubilee,” was intended to surprise the German forces, quickly destroy targeted installations, demonstrate Allied strength in order to divert German forces away from the Soviet Union, and test equipment and plans for the future liberation of Europe.
Of the 5,000 Canadian troops involved in the raid that day, 907 were killed, 1,154 were wounded, and 1,946 were taken prisoner. The casualties also included British, Belgian, Free French, and Polish soldiers, as well as a small number of American rangers. Although the raid was a disaster in terms of human lives lost, in what could be said to be an attempt to paint it in more positive terms, it is said to have provided the Allies with important lessons for the D-Day invasion two years later. “For every Canadian life lost here in Dieppe in 1942,” one monument, situated on the beach at Dieppe, reads, “ten lives were saved in June, 1944.”
Most of the Canadian dead are buried in the Canadian cemetery at Les Vertus, 5 kilometers from Dieppe. It’s a solemn place, away from much of the traffic, with a view to the hills beyond. Every year, the names of those soldiers are read aloud as part of the annual commemoration at the cemetery. In visits to the cemetery, I had discovered that one of the gravestones belongs to Jean-Jacques Lévesque. During the reading of names this past August, I elected to read the page with Jean-Jacques’ name on it, feeling a connection, but not knowing if one really existed.
Thanks to research done by Fernand and Marie-Ange Lévesque, researchers at the Lévesque Association, Inc., I now know that indeed he is a descendant of Jeanne and Robert, through their first son Francois-Robert and his wife Marie-Charlotte Aubert, as I am.
That research discovered that Jean-Jacques was the son of Joseph Roméo-Hervé Lévesque and Marie-Marthe Joron, who were married on May 12, 1919 in the parish of Saint-Jacques in Montreal. Jean-Jacques’ baptismal act has not been located, but it is believed that he was born around 1920, most likely the first born of the Lévesque – Joron couple. He was a lieutenant in the Montreal-based Fusiliers Mont-Royal regiment, the only French-Canadian unit in the Dieppe operation.
According to a Canadian news report, broadcast 75 years later, “For the 584 mainly French-Canadian soldiers of the Fusiliers Mont-Royal, Dieppe was something of a homecoming given the French port’s ties to the colonies of New France.” Their involvement, that included being charged with capturing German codebooks and cipher materials, was testimony to “the instrumental [but often overlooked] role that the Quebecois and French-Canadians played in the Canadian army and the Canadian forces as a whole.”
Allied plans for the raid did not work out as intended, for the Fusiliers, or for the other soldiers. “Over the brief four or five hours of battle, 119 Fusiliers were killed and another 344 taken prisoner. Only 125 made it back to England that afternoon, of whom four died from their wounds.” Jean-Jacques, at the age of 22, was one of those 119 Fusiliers who lost their lives that day.
In addition to the grave marker in the cemetery at Les Vertus, Jean-Jacques’ name is inscribed on a plaque in Montreal, commemorating the officers of the regiment who died during the Second World War.
Oddly, both Jean-Jacques and I have completed the circle that Jeanne Chevalier initiated in June, 1671. I, however, am not sure I plan to die here, but then neither did he.