The “Angel of Dieppe” has died at age 103 – more than 75 years after she helped save the lives of many Canadian and British soldiers.
Sister Agnès-Marie Valois became a Canadian military legend for treating soldiers captured by German forces after the failed Dieppe landing.
She has received honours from both her native country of France and Canada.
More than 3,000 of about 6,000 Allied soldiers were captured or killed – the majority of them Canadian.
Sister Agnès was born in 1914 in Rouen Seine-Inferior, France and became an Augustinian nun at the convent of the Hôtel-Dieu in her hometown in the 1936. A trained nurse, she was one of about 10 Augustinian nurses who received the wounded and dead from the bloody battle of Dieppe.
On 19 August 1942, about 6,100 Allied soldiers tried to storm the beach at the port town of Dieppe, France. The operation was considered a total disaster. Troops found themselves blocked from access points by concrete obstacles and overwhelmed by German firepower.
Within 10 hours, some 3,367 soldiers were killed or captured.
“It wasn’t war,” Sister Agnès has said. “It was a massacre.”
Sister Agnès personally tended to the wounded on the beach, and later at the Hôtel-Dieu in nearby Rouen. Her care and concern for the soldiers regardless of nationality sparked several military legends and earned her the nickname the “Angel of Dieppe”.
According to one legend, when a German officer pointed a pistol at a Canadian solider, she stood in between the gun and the wounded man and told the German soldier he would have to go through her.
In 2010, Sister Agnès recalled how a wounded man asked her to kiss him as his mother would. She did, and he later died.
She also recounted promising a Canadian soldier that she would take care of his amputated arm. She personally collected the arm and buried it in the garden, she said.
“They loved each other. They loved her and she loved them. Whenever she met what she called ‘my Canadians’ she had a great big smile on her face,” retired Canadian captain Tim Fletcher told the National Post.
After the war, she continued to work in hospitals before retiring.
She attended the commemoration for the battle in Dieppe every year, until recently when her health began to fail.
She was awarded the French National Order of Merit in 1992, became a knight of the Legion of Honour in 1996 and was awarded Canada’s Meritorious Service Medal in 1998.
The flags in Dieppe were flown at half-mast to honour her death.