L/Sgt G. A. Hickson, DCM

Sgt G.A. Hickson, MM, DCM about 1943
Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to L/Sgt Hickson for gallantry at Dieppe

By LCol Don Chipman (Ret'd)

George Alfred Hickson was born in 1915. He was a hydro lineman when he enlisted in London, Ontario on 9 January 1940. He had been living in Kitchener, Ontario and had served in The Scots Fusiliers of Canada since 1932 and at the time of his enlistment was a corporal. He was likely assigned to the Royal Canadian Engineers based on his pre-war occupational experience.

On the day of the Dieppe Raid, Lance-Sergeant Hickson was part of Lieutenant-Colonel Barnes’ Demolition Party. He landed on WHITE BEACH with six other Sappers at 0520 hours opposite the Casino. Coincidentally, the seven-man party was dubbed ‘Hicks Party’ and was accompanied by a covering platoon of 35 men from the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) commanded by Lt Webster. They had the task of destroying the telephone exchange in the main post office in the town of Dieppe. The attached copy of the Demolition Instructions given to Sgt Hickson provides a detailed version of his assignment.

Fire on the beach was intense. In an interview following the Raid, Sgt Hickson described the beach defences to Major C.P. Stacy, the Canadian Army Historical Officer at the time. There were no fewer than three machine posts, a Bofors-type gun, an anti-tank gun and a naval gun, all to their immediate front. There was no way the sappers and infantry could move directly to their demolition targets at the post office, so Hickson took his men and joined with Lt Webster in attacking the machine gun positions. There was wire across the seawall and the Infantry provided Bangalore torpedoes with which the Sappers cleared the obstacle. Hickson destroyed the 40 mm gun by detonating a three-pound charge on the breech.

When the Platoon Commander and Sergeant became casualties, Hickson assumed command and led the three remaining sappers and 14 infantry men to the Casino where strong enemy opposition was quickly put out of action.

At this point, Sgt Hickson divided the party in two. He sent L/Cpl Fisher and Spr Huyck to make their way to the Post Office. Even though Fisher had been wounded earlier in the action, he, Huyck and others made their way to the east before being forced back to the Casino.

Sgt Hickson remained at the Casino to continue the clearance before he could also head towards to Post Office. Using explosives to take out a sniper, he blew his way through the walls to reach a large concrete gun emplacement. Then with another charge, he blew in the steel door killing a gun crew of five. He then destroyed the six-inch naval gun and two machine guns after infantry had cleared the post. Twenty-three German prisoners were taken.

Despite heavy enemy opposition, Hickson reorganized the platoon and led them into the town as far as the Church of St. Remy. Sniper fire was intense, but the Canadians witnessed many civilians apparently walking about with little apparent concern for their safety. Sgt Hickson then realised they were giving away Canadian positions to the German snipers. The street was quickly cleared with Bren gun fire and the snipers were engaged. The crew cleared a house with fierce hand-to-hand fighting, cut all the telephone cables they could, and then low on ammunition, withdrew back to the Casino where they gave first aid to some of the German prisoners. By this time the only ammunition they had were grenades and they shared these with other RHLI soldiers.

It was now time to withdraw. L/Cpl Fisher and Spr Huyck returned to the Casino after having expended all their explosives and with Sgt Hickson and the others, made for an overloaded landing craft. Sgt Hickson led the soldiers in baling the vessel with their helmets. They transferred to a support vessel and again under Sgt Hickson’s leadership, helped transfer wounded men from three other landing craft to a destroyer. When the support craft headed back to shore, the Naval officer in charge made it quite clear to Hickson that he and his men were to board the destroyer, and not return to the shore. On the way back, Sgt Hickson’s destroyer was hit by an enemy bomb causing a fire and a delay. He arrived back to his unit the following day. Remarkably, during his time on the beach and in the town, two bullets passed through his left sleeve, and one through his pant leg. In the end, his only wound was a scratch from some barbed wire.

Citation

Lance-Sergeant Hickson was in charge of a group charged with destroying the main telephone exchange in the Post Office. Finding the fire on the beach too heavy to move directly to his target, he assisted an infantry platoon in mopping up enemy machine gun positions and destroyed a three-inch gun by detonating a three-pound charge on the breech. When the Platoon Commander and most of the senior Non-Commissioned Officers were put out of action, Hickson assumed command and led the platoon to the Casino where strong enemy opposition was nullified. Using explosive he blew his way through the walls to reach a large concrete gun emplacement. Then another charge blew in the steel door killing a gun crew of five. He then destroyed the six-inch naval gun and two machine guns after infantry had cleared the post. Lance-Sergeant Hickson then reorganized his platoon and despite heavy enemy opposition led them into the town as far as the St. Remy church. Unable to find Brigade Headquarters and being without support, he withdrew his party to the Casino. Lance-Sergeant Hickson throughout the day showed determined leadership and high qualities of initiative and was among the last group to evacuate.

Postscript

Sgt Hickson was among many officers and senior NCOs selected to serve in the 8th Army in North Africa where he won a Military Medal when he led a party of Royal Engineers in clearing a 40-yard gap lifting over 100 nines in less than an hour. He was the first Canadian soldier to win two medals for bravery in the Second World War. He was later commissioned and posted to the 3rd Field Company in Italy.

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