Lt-Col Gordon Howard McTavish – Engineer Commander

Lt-Col Gordon Howard McTavish
Brookwood Memorial in the Brookwood Military Cemetery near London, England

Gordon Howard McTavish was born in Galt, ON in 1903. Before the war, in January 1938 Major McTavish had taken command of the newly organized 1st Army Troops Company in London, ON. He was living in Seaforth, ON with his wife Dorothy when he enlisted for WW II in London on 3 September 1939. He was appointed as the Commanding Officer of 7th Field Company in London as the company mobilized.
Maj McTavish recruited and trained the 7th Fd Coy in London before the unit concentrated for training at Camp Petawawa, ON in May 1940. He embarked for UK with his company in August 1940 and continued training the company in England. In May 1942 the unit deployed with the rest of 2nd Canadian Infantry Division to the Isle of Wight to train for Operation RUTTER – the planned Dieppe Raid that was intended to be carried out early in June. The 7th Field Company provided the largest engineer contingent for the raid.

The first attempt to launch Op RUTTER on 8/9 July 1942 was called-off due to bad weather. All troops returned to their normal stations but the raid was revived almost immediately as Op JUBILEE with a new date of 18/19 August. Meanwhile, Maj McTavish had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel to command the 4th Battalion, RCE and the unit was moved to Basingstoke in August for a construction project. However, McTavish’s services had been requested personally by Brigadier General Roberts for the revived Dieppe Raid and he soon reported to command the Engineers for Op JUBILEE.

The raid was launched during the night 18/19 August with an assault force that comprised some 6000 troops, 5000 of whom were Canadian, with the remainder being British commandos and 50 Americans. Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 8, carrying 44 sappers - including Lt-Col McTavish - had bad luck when the first tank became immobilized just off the end of the ramp. Under heavy fire the 7th Fd Coy sappers struggled in vain to move it but were ordered back aboard. The LCT then withdrew and lay off shore but a battle between the craft's two-pounders and the German shore batteries continued for some time.
The LCT then ran in under heavy fire when it tried to get the commanding officer of the tank regiment ashore. It was struck several times and McTavish, who had taken the wheel after the helmsman was killed, was himself killed on the bridge while directing the run-in. As the craft touched, the vessel's engines stalled and, with the steering-gear out of action, it drifted helplessly under fire. Many more were wounded. Later, although the engines were re-started and the craft got clear, it had to be lashed to a small anti-submarine warship for the return trip to England.

Lt-Col McTavish was buried at sea. He is remembered on the Brookwood Memorial in the Brookwood Military Cemetery near London, England and in the City of London, Ontario Book of Remembrance.

 

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