French nun known as ‘Angel of Dieppe’ dies at 103
April 22. 2018 9:20PM
Sister Agnes-Marie Valois, a French Catholic nun who became known as the “Angel of Dieppe” as she cared for nearly 2,000 wounded Canadian soldiers after a disastrous Allied raid along the French coast during World War II, died April 19 at a monastery near Dieppe, France. She was 103.
The death was announced by the city’s mayor, Nicolas Langlois. No cause was disclosed.
Sister Agnes, a member of the Augustinian order of nuns, was trained as a nurse and worked with the French military and in surgical wards before the war.
By 1942, northern France was under German control and was considered occupied territory. Allied forces hoped to launch commando raids inside France by landing troops on the rocky Normandy shoreline near Dieppe.
Operation Jubilee was launched from southern England on Aug. 19, 1942. It was one of the Allies’ first coordinated invasions of the war, employing naval forces, ground troops and air power, and it was largely planned by British military officers. Of more than 6,000 soldiers who stormed the shore at Dieppe, almost 5,000 were from Canada. There were also about 1,000 British troops and a handful of Americans and French loyalists.
The assault, generally called the Dieppe Raid, was an utter debacle.
German ships in the English Channel noticed the flotilla of 237 Allied vessels and warned their compatriots of the imminent attack. As the troops tried to wade ashore, they were met with a barrage of German machine-gun and artillery fire from the bluffs overlooking the beach. Dogfights between Allied aircraft and the German Luftwaffe took place in the skies. More than 100 Allied planes were lost.
A Canadian armored unit struggled to drive tanks across the stones on Dieppe’s heavily pebbled beach, and many were stranded. As the Allies attempted to evacuate their overwhelmed forces, many vessels were sunk by German artillery fire.
The assault was over within a few hours. More than 900 Canadians were killed, along with about 100 Britons. Almost 2,000 Canadian soldiers were taken prisoner, many of them suffering grievous wounds.
Sister Agnes would care for almost all of them.
At the time of the attack, she was on duty at a hospital in Rouen, about 40 miles from Dieppe. She and 10 other Augustinian nurses were charged with looking after the wounded.
Many of the Canadian soldiers greeted Sister Agnes in French, angering the German captors. When she was ordered to treat wounded Germans first, she defiantly refused, saying it was her duty to minister to all.
“She is known for standing up to the German soldiers,” Hardy Wheeler, a retired Canadian army officer, told Canada’s National Post newspaper. “They held a gun up to her to treat the German injured first, but she just looked at everyone as equal — regardless of rank, regardless of nation, regardless of who or what you are.”
Some Canadian soldiers recalled that a German was about to execute a wounded comrade when Sister Agnes stepped between them, saying the bullet would have to pass through her first.
As one of the few happy memories the Canadians had of the ill-fated amphibious assault, Sister Agnes soon became known as the “Angel of Dieppe.”
Agnes Cecile Marie-Madeleine Valois was born June 30, 1914, in Rouen, where her family had a rope-manufacturing business. She joined the Augustinian order and began training as a nurse in 1936.
Sister Agnes received the French legion of honor in her later years and attended reunions of Canadian soldiers at Dieppe.
“I remember all my Canadians,” she said in 2002. “They’re like my family . . . because they were trying to liberate France. They were all very brave.”