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Remembering the Italian Campaign Forty-two ships carrying Canadian soldiers departed Great Britain on June 25, 1943. On board were the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade. They didn’t know where they were going, and it was not until July 3rd, as they passed through the Straits of Gibraltar that they learned they were to be part of an Allied invasion of Sicily. On June 28th, a second convoy group that included ten ships transporting Canadians departed Great Britain. In the two convoys Canadians numbered some 26,000 troops, with tanks, artillery, and supplies. Two additional convoys would bring supplies and troops, all part a total invasion force of some 3000 ships and landing craft. But the convoy of June 25th lost three ships from enemy attack. Fifty-two Canadians drowned, including six from Nova Scotia. A significant amount of equipment was also lost, including vehicles, artillery, and signals equipment. The Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps’ lost personnel and medical supplies. The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major campaign of World War II. As the first step, on July 10, 1943, the American 5th Army and the British 8th Army that included the Canadians landed in Sicily. On the left flank of the British were the Canadians. Flotillas of Royal Canadian Navy landing craft supported the troops. Three Canadian bomber squadrons operated from bases in Tunisia to support the invasion in Sicily and later in Italy. The RCAF, flew Spitfire aircraft from the first to last of the Italian campaign. The battle lasted thirty-eight days. Canadians came ashore carrying 70 or 80 lbs. of equipment, fought in hot, dusty weather battling through difficult terrain. They were sunburned through their shirts, but medical teams did devise a sunscreen - iodine and olive oil - and it worked! Sicily was the first real test in WWII of what the Canadian army could accomplish. They fought through 210 km of the mountainous country farther than any other formation in the 8th British army. Andre Boudreau of Wedgeport served with the West Nova Scotia Regiment. He was twenty-four when he enlisted in January 1940. On August 2nd, 1943, he was killed in action - one of three, born in Yarmouth County buried in a WWII cemetery in Sicily. With the enemy driven out of Sicily, the Allies invaded mainland Italy. Elements of the Eighth Army, including the Canadians, landed in the 'toe' of Italy on September 3, 1943. The enemy forces were determined to hold the Italian mainland and took advantage of the mountainous landscape turning the length of the Italian peninsula into a series of defensive positions protected with machine-gun nests, barbed wire, land mines, and artillery positions. The 5th Canadian Armoured Division arrived from Great Britain in November and the Canadians with other Allied troops battled up the Italian mainland successfully pushing back the enemy in villages, towns, and cities. James VanAmburg, aged 18, of Tusket, John Harris, aged 24, of Comeau’s Hill, Malcolm Brittain, aged 23, of Forest Glen, Freeman Grant, aged 17, of Carleton and Emile Joseph Comeau of Beaver River were five from Yarmouth County killed in action as the Canadians fought toward Ortona in December of 1943. In November 1943, Canada dispatched the 5th Armoured Division to the Mediterranean theatre. Now, among the Canadian forces in Italy were the Princess Louise Fusiliers, the Irish Regiment of Canada, and the Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment. They joined the West Nova Scotia Regiment, the 48th Highlanders of Canada, the Carleton and York Regiment and the Royal Canadian Dragoons in the fighting. These units included many of the veterans of the Wedgeport Legion and in particular, Henry O'Connell and Charlie Muise. At Ortona, its narrow, rubble-filled streets limited the use of tanks and artillery and the Canadians engaged in vicious street fighting. The town was liberated on December 28, after more than a week of battle. During April and May 1944, the Canadians moved across Italy to join the Americans in the struggle for Rome. On May 22, John Edward Doucette, with the 48th Highlanders of Canada, and on May 24, Phillip Joseph Blanchard with the West Nova Scotia Regiment were killed in action. Two soldiers from Quinan, buried in the Cassino War Cemetery. A memorial stone at the entrance to the cemetery in Quinan, ensures that these two soldiers will always be remembered by the village and those who visit the cemetery. Phillip Blanchard was a very good singer and a guitar player. An uncle told the story of Phillip’s departure and going with him to the train station to see him, off. The uncle had purchased a pint of rum for Phillip, a little something to have during the journey. But, not wanting to make anyone aware of this, he attempted to slip it into Phillip’s pocket as the soldiers were ready to board the train. Thinking he had successfully slipped the pint into the pocket unknown to others, he let go of the bottle. The pint fell to the ground and smashed! There was no special treat for Phillip on the train! May 23, the worst day in terms of casualties for the Canadian Army in Italy, saw 890 Canadians killed or wounded. Among the dead would be Arnold Clayton White of Carleton and James Muise of Yarmouth. The Eighth Army continued up the Liri Valley towards Rome against fierce resistance. The capture of Ceprano on May 27th broke the German resistance and Rome fell on June 4th, but Canadians did not march triumphantly into the city. They were placed in reserve several days before and the American forces entered Rome. As one Canadian veteran put it “we did all the hard fighting and the Americans marched into the city as liberators”. The fall of Rome and the D-Day landings in France two days later, made Italy seem so much less important. But the fighting went on and the Canadians played a leading part in the breaking of the Gothic Line, crossing the Peninsula north of Florence, throughout August and September. August 31, saw the death of Trooper Joseph Walter Deveau, serving with the 5th Armoured Brigade. On November 1, Henry James Muise, from Sluice Point, serving with the Cape Breton Highlanders was killed in action. After spending November in reserve, the Canadians returned to attack Ravenna. The city fell on December 4th, and on that day James Theodore Doucette of Wedgeport, fighting with the Princess Louise Fusiliers, was killed in action. He enlisted on February 4, 1941. Henry O’Connell can tell you a story of James Doucette. He was a boxer and during training in Halifax in 1941, he and Arthur LeBlanc used to box together in their spare time, just for fun. Arthur LeBlanc also served with the Princess Louise Fusiliers and was a veteran of the Italian Campaign. Private Pervin O’Neil, serving with the West Nova Scotia Regiment, aged 24, of Deerfield was killed on December 10th. Many remember the mud, the rain, the cold in winter, and the endless shelling. Henry O’Connell served as the nose machine gunner in a 15-ton armored car and later in an open American White scout car … armored reconnaissance … seek out the enemy, withdraw so the infantry could go in … he didn’t want to be in the infantry, but in the fall of 1944 their vehicles got stuck in the mud … so after a few days, he was moved to the front to assist the infantry to hold the lines. He arrived at 10:00 am. It was October 11, 1944. At 1:00 pm he was hit by shrapnel. He was hospitalized until just before Christmas. Again, he was wounded on January 11th, 1945. His closest call from the enemy guns came when a shell hit a few feet from his armored car. He survived; the second machine gunner did not. Charlie Muise served with the Irish Regiment of Canada in Italy. He can tell us about the terror of those enemy 88 guns. He and Simeon Maillet found themselves the target of a landing shell. When the dust settled, all one could see was Charlie’s helmet. He had been buried in chunks of earth. Once dug out of the mud and clay and he confirmed he was intact, although just a little shaken, he was hospitalized for a time before returning to the battle. Veterans can tell you stories of not sleeping in beds for months, of climbing narrow mud roads, freezing in the winter months because their winter gear didn’t arrive until December of 1943, of crossing endless rivers and valleys, repairing and building endless bridges, of eating canned bacon, mostly fat, and bully beef, day after day, but thankful for it nevertheless, of seeing hungry children, sharing food with them, of a Christmas Day at Ortona when the fighting continued and soldiers died. And saddest of all, of seeing friends wounded and killed. The campaign continued into the spring of 1945. In February the 1st Canadian Corps began the move to Northwest Europe to be united with the First Canadian Army. There, they would join in the drive into Holland and Germany. Now, it was after D-Day that the Allied servicemen who fought in Italy during the Second World War were sometimes referred to as the D-Day Dodgers. An American-born British politician Nancy Astor first used the ill-considered term that implied cowardice and avoidance of the 'real' war in France. The troops who had been fighting there for nine months felt slighted by her ignorance and resented the implications of the phrase 'D-Day Dodgers'. The result was words to a song many servicemen in Italy began to sing, set to the tune of “Lili Marlene.” The words generally, and sarcastically, refers to how easy the soldiers’ life was on the Italian front. We landed in Salerno, a holiday with pay, The Jerries brought the bands out to greet us on our way Showed us the sights and gave us tea, We all sang songs, the beer was free. But, it is the last verse that tells the real story … Look around the mountains, in the mud and rain See the scattered crosses, some which have no name. Heartbreak, and toil, suffering gone The boys beneath them slumber on They are the D-Day Dodgers, who’ll stay in Italy. The purpose for the Italian Campaign was to remove Italian troops from other areas of Europe, divert German forces from France and reduce the strength of the German army. These goals were achieved. In Sicily and in Italy, Canadians demonstrated that they were superior soldiers. 92,757 Canadian soldiers served in the Campaign, 19,486 were wounded, 5,764 lost their lives. Thirty, born in various communities of Yarmouth Co., never returned. We remember them, and we remember the veterans who served in the Italian Campaign. Other Casualties from Yarmouth Co., NS Frank Stephens D’Entremont of West Pubnico (Private, Carleton and York Regiment) killed in action July 18, 1943. Leonard Arthur Dow of Yarmouth (Private, Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment) killed in action July 25, 1943. Harold Fenwick Parker of Yarmouth (Major, 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards) killed in action November 4, 1943. Charles Willard Rogers of Yarmouth (Private, West Nova Scotia Regiment) killed in action November 22, 1943. George Henry Lewis of Yarmouth (Private, West Nova Scotia Regiment) killed in action May 18, 1944. James Gillis MacLellan of Yarmouth (Private,West Nova Scotia Regiment), killed in action August 31, 1944. Francis McLaughlin Larkin of East Pubnico (Lance Corporal, Cape Breton Highlanders) killed in action September 10, 1944 Ernest Joseph Melanson of Yarmouth (Trooper , Ontario Regiment) killed in action September 12, 1944. William Joseph Muise of Chebogue, Yarmouth Co., (Private, Carleton and York Regiment, killed in action September 14, 1944 Carl Warren Alllen of Pembroke (Private, Carleton and York Regiment) killed in action September 18, 1944. Leslie Oliver Vickery of Rockville (Private, West Nova Scotia Regiment) killed in action September 19, 1944. Kenneth Higby of Yarmouth (Private, West Nova Scotia Regiment), killed in action October 23, 1944 Arthur Hatfield of Yarmouth (Private, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps) accidental death November 9, 1944 Alfred John Amero of Yarmouth (Sergeant, West Nova Scotia Regiment) killed in action December 2, 1944 Donald Hugh Lent of Overton (Sapper, Royal Canadian Engineers, 10 Field Sqn.) killed in action December 11, 1944 An abbreviated version was presented at the Royal Canadian Legion, Wedgeport by George Egan Chairman, Wartime Heritage Association February 28, 2020
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The Italian Campaign - WWII
1st Canadian Division, engaged in brutal house-to-house fighting in Ortona