Sergeant Morris Greenberg, a hero of Dieppe

paula greenberg and ellin bessner
Ellin with Paula Greenberg, niece of Sgt. Morris Greenberg, KIA in Dieppe, 1942.

The anniversary of the Dieppe Raid is commemorated every August 19th, but the date is never far from the mind of a Newmarket, Ontario woman, Paula Greenberg Pritchard.  Her uncle, Sgt. Morris Greenberg, was killed in action in the waters off the beach at Dieppe, code named Blue Beach, on August 19, 1942.

He was last seen as he tried to help his retreating men climb onto a floundering landing craft. He wanted to get the traumatized and wounded survivors of the raid back to safety in England. I had written about Greenberg in my book “Double Threat” but had gathered almost all of my information from wartime sources.

When Paula’s email popped in to my inbox recently, it was one of those goosebumps moments that I continue to experience, now that the book has been published. Paula had been in the Newmarket Public Library and saw a news story about me in the Era Banner newspaper, and she offered to meet me to show me photos and artifacts that she lovingly curates in her home, as she keeps the memory of her family’s war hero alive.

Father and uncle both served in WWII

Her uncle, Morris Greenberg, was born in 1917 to a family of Romanian Jewish immigrants. He worked as a tie cutter in Toronto, lived on Oxford Street, and had an older, married sister Rose, who lived in Winnipeg. His younger brother Irving, Paula’s father,  served with the 48th Highlanders, and then went overseas to England where he was transfered to the same regiment as Morris, the Royals.

Morris enlisted right at the start of the hostilities, on September 13, 1939, with the Royal Regiment of Canada, in Toronto. His regiment was sent to Iceland in June, 1940, to help the British occupy that country during that summer. The Royals were stationed in Iceland until October 1940, and by August, Greenberg had been promoted to Lance Corporal.

He was one of the Jewish Canadian soldiers who participated in a landmark Yom Kippur service held in Reykjavik that month. In a famous photo taken at the service, Morris is likely the soldier with the moustache on the left side, middle row, third from the left.  Morris and the other Royals left Iceland with the Canadians in Z Force, as it was called, in late October, 1940 and sailed for England.

Irving played the drums, and sent a snapshot home from England, when it was Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1940. His brother Morris’ personal effects later contained a set of drum sticks. The brothers did spend a leave together in Scotland, and we surmise that Irving gave Morris the sticks as a present.

soldiers in a band

Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1940 Bordon Camp, England. (Photo courtesy Paula Greenberg.)

Morris also possessed this special Hebrew prayer book, which had been distributed to all Jewish personnel by the Jewish chaplains in England.

Jewish serviceman's prayer book

Prayerbook for Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Army, Paula Greenberg collection.

By June of 1942, Morris and his men had been undergoing serious commando training to prepare for amphibious raids on the continent. Morris was, by then, a skilled weapons instructor and had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. The photo says, “Gonna dig a little hole,” Signed, Morris.

soldiers in summeer
“Gonna dig a little hole”, Morris. (Photo courtesy Paula Greenberg.)

morris greenberg

Close up of Sgt. Morris Greenberg, June 1942. (Photo courtesy Paula Greenberg.)

The night of August 18, 1942, Greenberg and his men climbed on board the vessels that would take them across the English Channel. It was supposed to be done stealthily. The target? The pebbled beach of Dieppe, France, where the town had been under German control for the last two years.

You’ll have to read the chapter in “Double Threat” to find out what happened to Morris when dawn broke on the 19th of August.

He is buried in the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery in Hautot-sur-Mer along with some 764 other Canadian casualties from the Dieppe Raid.  The epitaph on his tombstone reads: This was his honour, For what he believed, he fought. Even unto death. 

morris greenberg tombstone


Grave of Sgt. Morris Greenberg, in Dieppe. (Photo courtesy Paula Greenberg.)

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