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 John 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 infantrymen to the Casino where strong enemy opposition was quickly put out of action. Hickson says when his party got inside the casino they found Canadians and other units were racing about knocking out Germans and taking prisoners. In an interview with the Canadian Press, Hickson said, “We took 26 prisoners,” says Hickson. “Some of them gave up easily, but one particularly fought like hell. He had a little spot in a doorway surrounded by sandbags and he kept rolling grenades at us across the floor. The grenades looked something like tops and the Germans made them roll around .us in a semi-circle from behind the sand bags. Every time one went off it lifted us about a foot off the floor.”
At this point, Sgt Hickson divided the small engineer 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 in the foot earlier in the action, he, Huyck and others made their way to the east before being forced back to the Casino. They gathered up scattered infantry soldiers in the casino, and in Hickson's words, they made up a "formidable little platoon."
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. They piled their packs with an explosive charge and headed to the beach. 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, a delay and more casualties. He arrived back at 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. He complained that the uniform had been brand new when he landed.
George Alfred Hickson was born in Kitchener, Ontario in 1915 and lived there most of his life. He was the oldest of five brothers and three sisters. He was educated at St. Mary’s School and the Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate. He was interested in sport and played for one of the collegiate rugby teams. After graduating from school, he was employed at intervals by the Bell Telephone Company where his father is a foreman, and later, he was permanently employed as a linesman by the county hydro company.
George joined the The Scots Fusiliers of Canada, a local reserve unit, in 1932 and rose to the position of Company Sergeant Major of A Company. He was married in 1935 and he and his wife Marion had two boys, George and Larry, when he enlisted.He enlisted in London, Ontario on 9 January 1940. He was assigned to the Royal Canadian Engineers, possibly based on his pre-war occupational experience. Two more children were born after the war.
George trained for a short time in Canada and arrived in the the UK in June 1940 with the 7th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, a unit largely recruited in southern Ontario. George wrote home many times describing the intensity of his Commando Training in Scotland. His family was branded as 'very patriotic' considering that his George's father had served three years during the First World War and all five of his brothers served in army or air force during the Second War. One brother, Robert, was killed in Normandy in July 1944 serving with the Highland Light Infantry in the 3rd Canadian Division.
After his heroism at Dieppe, George was cited, along with Lt-Col Cecil Merritt, VC, by the Minister of Defence, James Ralston, as an example of the gallantry shown by Canadian soldiers at Dieppe. Although lauded as a hero and expected home soon to exploit his fame in support of the war effort, his father described George as a quiet man saying it would be hard to get him to talk about himself.
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 mines in less than an hour. See: Sgt George Alfred Hickson, 7th Field Company, Military Medal
Sgt George Hickson, DSM, MM, was the first Canadian soldier to win two medals for bravery in the Second World War. In 1944, he was commissioned and posted to the 3rd Field Company in Italy.
George returned and continued in his former job until he retired. He died at the Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay, Ontario on 15 August 1979.
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.