Dieppe Raid Case : Reports of the hearing of ghostly sounds of a bloody World War II air and sea battle fought near Dieppe, France. The case, documented and examined by psychical researchers, attained fame in the 1950s. It is considered to be an example of paranormal collective auditory hallucinations.
The case was reported by two Englishwomen on holiday at Puys, near Dieppe, in late July and early August 1951. The women, identified pseudonymously in reports as Dorothy Norton and her sister-in-law Agnes Norton, stayed in a house that during World War II had been occupied by German soldiers. Dorothy Norton was accompanied by her two children and a nurse.
On the morning of August 4, at about 4:20, the women were awakened by loud noises that started suddenly and at first sounded like a storm arising at sea. The sounds ebbed and flowed, and then they could distinctly hear sounds of gunfire, shellfire, divebombers, and men shouting and crying out. The women got up and went out on their balcony, where they could not actually see the sea, but they detected nothing that could account for the noises. Meanwhile, the noises came in from the direction of the sea, loud and intense, and still seemed like gunfire, divebombing and voices shouting. The roaring abruptly stopped at 4:50 A.M. and resumed at about 5:07 A.M. The noise became so intense that the Norton women were amazed that other occupants of the house were not awakened. As the sky grew light, they heard a rifl e shot on the beach below. The noise became more distinct as the sound of divebombing planes that came in waves. It stopped abruptly at 5:40 A.M. The noise resumed at 5:50 A.M., not as loud, but still sounding distinctly like planes. The noise died away at 6 A.M. and resumed at 6:20 A.M., much fainter. The women heard nothing at all after 6:55 A.M.
Both women knew that a battle had taken place in the vicinity during the war, but neither knew the details. They consulted a French guidebook and, during the experience, sat and read the account of the battle. They concluded they might have heard ghostly sounds of the real battle, and agreed to write independent versions of their experience. With a small discrepancy in time (probably due to a difference in watches), their reports matched. Later, they asked several persons if they, too, had been disturbed during the night, but received negative answers.
The sounds bore a remarkable correspondence to the fierce battle that took place in the Dieppe environs on August 19, 1942, at precisely the times experienced by the Nortons. The Royal Regiment of Canada launched a predawn assault on German forces from Puys, about 1.5 miles east of Dieppe, to Berneval, about 5 miles east, to Purville, about 2.5 miles west of Dieppe and to Varengeville about 3 miles further west. Flank landings were scheduled to make surprise arrivals at 4:50 A.M. to destroy coastal batteries.
At about 3:47, the Canadians encountered a small German convoy off the coast, and the two forces exchanged fire until after 4 A.M. The Canadians arrived at Dieppe a few minutes late, at 5:07. At 5:12 A.M., destroyers started to bombard Dieppe with shells, and at 5:15 Hurricane planes attacked, at Puys as well as Dieppe. At 5:20 A.M., main landings at Dieppe were made, covered by a bombardment of shells from destroyers and by heavy air attack. A second wave went ashore at about 5:45 A.M. At about 5:50 A.M., new air fighters from England arrived, and German planes were in the sky as well.
The Germans, who were able to man their beach defenses, waited until the landing craft nearly touched shore before opening heavy fire with rifles, machine guns and howitzers. The Canadians were trapped by a high seawall. Within two or three hours, the Royal Regiment of Canada was nearly destroyed. Thirty-four officers and 727 men were killed. Two officers and 65 men, half of whom were wounded, were rescued and taken away, and another 16 officers and 264 men were captured by the Germans.
A comparison of the Nortons’ experience with the phases of the Dieppe raid showed consistencies between times and the changes in the noises they heard, with a few exceptions. The information in the French guidebook was not specific enough for them to have subconsciously matched their description to the real event after reading about it.
The Nortons, interviewed by psychical researchers G.W. Lambert and Kathleen Gray, came across as well balanced individuals who displayed no tendency to embellish their accounts, and no desire to prove they had had a paranormal experience. Dorothy Norton said she had been awakened by similar, but fainter, noises on the morning of July 30, but had not mentioned the experience to Agnes (who had not heard the noises) because she had not wanted to spoil the holiday with something mysterious.
Skeptics proposed other explanations for the experience, such as surf sounds, noise from commercial airplanes flying a nearby route across the English Channel, or noise from a dredger. Agnes Norton had served in the women’s Royal Naval Service during the war, however, and she probably would have been able to distinguish the sounds of the sea and of a single commercial aircraft, had those been the natural sources. The dredger was not in operation at the times corresponding to the Nortons’ experience.
Both women were familiar with the Versailles Haunting, a similar case in which two Englishwomen on holiday in France felt they had paranormal experiences in encountering the ghostly past. Skeptics also suggested that this familiarity may have subconsciously primed the Nortons to have their own experience. The possibility is remote, since the Norton women were not previously acquainted with the details of the Dieppe case.
- Hastings, Robert J. “An Examination of the Dieppe Raid Case.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)45 (June 1969): 55–63.
- Lambert, G. W. “Comments on Mr Hastings’ Examination of the Dieppe Raid Case.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)45 (June 1969): 63–66.
———, and Kathleen Gray. “The Dieppe Raid Case: A Collective Auditory Hallucination.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)36 (May–June 1952): 607–618.