A nun who became known as The “Angel of Dieppe,” for her heroic efforts in caring for WWII soldiers at the disastrous Battle of Dieppe, died at 103 years old.
Sister Agnès-Marie Valois of Canada, an Augustinian nun, was trained as a surgical nurse before the war. She passed away on April 19 at a monastery near Dieppe, France.
Her efforts and bravery during that dark battle are legendary and inspiring.
It was 1942. At that time northern France had fallen under the control of the Nazis. The Allies sought to change that by landing troops on the Normandy shoreline near Dieppe. It was called Operation Jubilee and was launched on Aug. 19, 1942.
5,000 of the 6,000 soldiers who were to take part in the invasion were Canadians. Most of the others were British with a smattering of American and French troops.
A Canadian general infamously said before the invasion, “Don’t worry, men. It’ll be a piece of cake.” It was not.
As hundreds of Allied vessels approached the shore, the Germans opened fire. They had seen the approach and were more than ready. The machine guns were set as the men raced onto the shore. They opened fire and results were catastrophic.
Planes engaged in dogfights in the skies above and the Germans won the sky that day. On the ground, many of the tanks that were considered crucial to the success of the mission had to be abandoned because the shore was too rocky and uneven.
Within a few hours, more than 900 Canadians were killed and more than double that number were wounded and taken prisoner.
Sister Agnes was on duty at a hospital in nearby Rouen where many of the wounded were taken. The Germans ordered her to treat the wounded Germans first but she refused, insisting that she would care for everyone regardless of which country they were from or their rank. The Nazis raised a gun to her head, ordering her to treat only the German wounded but she once again steadfastly refused. At another point, a German raised his gun to shoot one of the wounded Canadians but Sister Agnes stepped in front of the gun and said the bullet would have to go through her.
One grievously wounded soldier asked her to kiss him as if she were his mother. He died soon afterward. Sister Agnes arranged for his burial along with so many others in a local cemetery. Another soldier asked her to take care of his arm which had been amputated. She picked up a shovel and buried it in the shade of a nearby tree.
On Friday, the day of her death, the city’s mayor announced her passing and the town of Dieppe flew flags at half mast in her honor.
For her service, Sister Agnès was awarded many honors including the French National Order of Merit, the Legion of Honour, and Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal. She has gone on to a far greater reward now, I’m sure.