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Memoirs of Gordie Bannerman

Still in Italy

The days of the early part of September were hot and dusty. When you rode your motor bike down the road the fine dust was up to your foot rests, fine as flour. The dust from convoys or almost any vehicle rose high in the air giving the German gunners a fine target to fire into the dust cloud. More times than we liked they would hit and set on fire a vehicle. Fox troop for the past few days had been very fortunate in not getting shelled while other units of the regiment sustained casualties.

The 17th Regiment was in position to support the attack on Coriano Ridge. We had moved into position around September 11th on a reverse slope of a fairly steep hill. Fox troop was just below a small village. In this village our battery command post was located. In this spot, L/sgt Elmer Applegren and Bombardier, Mickey Lalonde, were up at the observation post and were given two German prisoners to deliver to Brigade for interrogation. Elmer and Mickey loaded the prisoners in their jeep and started to return to Headquarters. On the way down they came under German shell fire and took shelter in an old house which had a good supply of wine. Elmer and Mickey had a few drinks then thought that the German prisoners should have a drink too. After many drinks Elmer arrived at our Battery Headquarters, walked in, reported to Capt Hand and said look what we have in the jeep.

Capt Hand came out to see what was going on and one German prisoner was driving the jeep, the other prisoner was holding the tommy gun and Mickey very drunk in the back of the jeep. Capt Hand said, along with a few other chosen words, that it looked like they brought you here not the other way around. Brigade was not happy as the German prisoners were too full of vino and ready to sleep and in no shape for any questioning.

After this, Sgt Al Ede, our signal sergeant, was requested by 8th Army to help them coordinate communications. He now left a spot open for a promotion. After Elmer Applegren’s handling of the prisoners, he was not to be promoted. At this time my best friend Orme Payne transferred back to 76th Battery from 60th Battery. I was really pleased to see him back with us and it did not take Orme long to have all the signallers doing a bang up job. When I went to my slit trench and went to sleep on the night of September 12th I did not know what the next day, my 23rd birthday, would bring.

Not far from Coriano Ridge, Italy on September 13, 1944, I awakened really early. We operated on three times fast time to take advantage of every hour of daylight. As I went to get out from under my pup tent I noticed a very large piece of blackened shell. It looked at first glance like a part of a 25 pounder shell. In its blackened state I thought one of our guns must of had a premature explosion and the fired shell had burst almost as it left the gun. I wondered if this happened why noone had told me.

I did not hear a sound during the night, but that large piece of shell was not there when I crawled into my slit trench. While I wondered about this, I still had to get out and do my ammunition report that went to the RSM before 7AM each day. I pulled on my pants and started out of my pup tent. Just then there was a swoosh and a violent explosion into a clump of bamboo about twenty feet from me. The resulting explosion flattened the bamboo and the dirt and dust going over my head.

I went out, did my ammunition report and found out what happened during the night. During the night a British Artillery unit was going through the village to our rear when they came under accurate shell fire, hitting an ammunition limber which burned, and the exploding shells rained down around us. I had slept through this and that was the answer to the blackened shell.

We had been doing a lot of firing in this position and there was a lull in the activity so one of our chaps said let us lay down on the hill top and watch the Desert Airforce strafe and bomb the enemy positions that lay before Coriano Ridge. I agreed and borrowed Lt Ross's binoculars. As the other chap and I went to start up the hill I noted that a driver (J. A. “Red” McLlellan from Nova Scotia) was loading empty shell boxes into his lorry. He jumped into the lorry to adjust his load and the lorry started to roll down the steep hill. He jumped back to the ground and tried to catch the lorry.

I took after the truck, catching up to it as it rocketed down the hill. The only trouble was that I was in the left side of a right hand drive truck. I tried to get hold of the steering wheel and on one attempt the lorry hit a shell hole and the result was the motor came up hitting me in the forehead. Blood flowed freely, but again I attempted to get the lorry under control and as I looked out here was a gun muzzle to our front and we were closing on it fast. It was bail out time so I hit the ground running with a head wound streaming blood all down my shirt. The lorry missed the gun, but it took the pup tent off one Bdr Andersen who said God damn you Gordie you nearly killed me. I replied you stupid SOB you know I'm not a driver and you are lucky.

Well the lorry ran past this gun and part way up the hill, then back down, then back up. Each up and down getting less distance and finally coming to rest at the bottom of the hill where Red the driver came and drove it away. I had a small shell dressing applied to my head got on my bike and went to the nearest casualty clearing station where I had a number of stitches to my forehead. Everyone said the 13th was an unlucky day for me. My answer was no it was the luckiest day of my life! I survived!

The 13th of September was quite a day and after all that went on, there was more to come. Coming through our gun position was a group of German prisoners escorted by a couple of First Division privates. This group stopped for a rest behind our gun lines. I, along with a few others, went up to see the enemy at close range. The prisoners were a mixed bag of tall, short, and quite rumpled. All looked pretty beat and exhausted. With this group was a young German officer very smart in appearance. He also spoke English very well. A British officer came along and started to question the German officer where he learned to speak English so well? The German said in school. I thought this German said he was 22 years old. The British officer informed that Aachen had fallen to the allies either this day or the day before.

Up to now the German officer had been very alert and in control of his emotions. On hearing that Aachen had fallen his face fell. His asked if we were sure it was Aachen, pronounced differently than the Brit had spoken it. We all said yes the allies were on German soil. At that moment our guns opened up causing the prisoners to jump. The prisoners then stared at our firing guns. This was a first hand look at the guns they believed to be automatic with the rate of fire they attained. The young German officer, still thinking he was in charge, said he hoped that they would not be placed in prison overseen by the French and not go to Africa. His next words were they better get going to the prisoner war cage. This young German officer, after he heard his homeland was now invaded by the allies, strode away with a less arrogant posture and stride. His thought before leaving was he wished to be sent to America.

Our air force was out every day pounding the area of Coriano Ridge and beyond. The Spit Bombers were something else to watch. How they dived almost below tree top level through a hail of antiaircraft fire including even a kitchen sink or two. All this before releasing their bomb on the target. These pilots were young and we could not help but admire their courage. We most often gave credit to the City of Windsor Spit bomber squadron for most of the raids on the enemy.

Sometime on September 16th our advance party went forward to just below Coriano Ridge that had been taken with fierce fighting a couple of days before. This position had a great amount of mines everywhere, anti personnel and antitank. Along a small path we came upon the remains of some British Black Watch soldiers. It appeared that they had been walking along the path when the lead person tripped a wire setting off some teller antitank mines. The body of a British officer was laying there and his head in his helmet was up in a tree so violent had the blast been. The others with him had not faired too well either, two more being killed with him and a foot from one minus the shoe and sock was a couple of hundred feet away. They had been laying there for at least two days or more.

At the moment we did not do anything with the bodies as the guns were coming late this night. On September 17th we gathered up the bodies and body parts of the Black Watch soldiers and buried them in shallow grave. Our padre was an older man coming from the 48th Highlanders. While he was doing the burial service, Germans started to shell. This shelling kept getting closer to where we were having the service. The padre interrupted his prayer to say his knees would not let him get up and move to a slit trench, but if any of us wished to do so go for it. None of us left, but I had my eye on a hole close by. The last shell hit a hundred yards away and the service was completed anyway.

While walking back to our wagon lines I heard a roar of a low flying plane and glancing up I saw a Mitchell bomber flying as if to crash. A door opened on the side of the fuselage and one after another five men jumped out and opened their parachutes. Someone with me said there is five, but there should be one more crew member and in a few seconds the sixth man jumped. Mind you his chute had just opened and he hit the ground near our gun tractors. The plane went a few more yards and crashed just missing our wagon lines. When the plane crashed it exploded into a gigantic ball of fire. The first five men out of the plane landed safely but the sixth, a sergeant, was dead. He had hit the ground with a lot of force killing him on impact.

Within moments after this crash I heard an explosion back near our guns and saw a flash of flame, a small cloud of smoke and heard some screams. I was some distance away and thought that it could have been one of our chaps who had stepped on a mine, so I ran back to that area in time to see Sgt George Hegan carry an Italian liaison officer down from the hillside. This officer had stepped on a mine and had his foot blown off. His batman was still standing near where the mine went off making a lot of noise. George Hegan went back up to get this man. I thought he might need help and as I came up to George and this frightened Italian, George said watch out Gordie there is a mine there and another one there as he pointed out Schu mines all over. George did a brave thing and did not need my help. The Italian soldier was a bat man to the officer that George had just carried out. This young man was not wounded, but too scared to move. A Medical Corps ambulance took them away. The Italian officer asked for a shot of morphine and he and his batman were transported to a casualty clearing station.

Our gun position immediately below Coriano was to be an exciting one if nothing else. We seemed to have a great view of fighter aircraft in combat high above us and to our front. During these combats in the air we saw aircraft being sent crashing to the ground. Some were ours. One Spitfire came straight down about 400 yards from us. It was nose first and going so fast that we saw it hit the ground and fly to pieces before the noise of it diving came to us. Strange to see it hit the ground, then hear the roar of the dive after the fact. Some of our fellows were very good artists and using material from aircraft wind screens turned out rings and bracelets. Others went to get the radio out of this downed Spit and when they were moving the radio there was a self destructing charge in the radio so that all frequencies were destroyed if it fell into enemy hands. No radio and no injury when it exploded.

We saw the pilots parachuting down and in one case the German pilot landed in allied lines and our pilot landed in the German line. Another Spitfire roared along to our left flying full throttle about thirty feet above the ground. It was without a pilot as we had seen the pilot bail out when engaged in a fight closer to the front and at a good altitude. Soon this runaway plane slammed into the hills to our left rear.

Later this day I was coming back from the wagon lines when I saw a great cloud of dust and heard the crash of a shell in our command post area. Orme Payne’s signaller called Smith was standing where this explosion occurred. In the ensuing dust cloud no one could see Smith, but when the dust settled there was Smith still standing and I think his words to Orme were, “Imagine That". Miracles are hard to explain, but Smith was a living walking miracle as he did not get a scratch. When I arrived on the scene all I could see was a very dust covered Smith, a miracle indeed.

During this time the 60th Battery had a direct hit on a gun pit killing Sgt Tom Stewart and wounding the rest of the crew, including Roy Childs. Tommy Stewart had also been promoted from my gun detachment. Tommy was 22 years old and was one of those gifted with a photographic memory.

The clouds of dust along any of the roads drew a lot of enemy shell fire with resulting casualties. From this area we fired a couple of barrages.

Italy September 1944, in the vicinity of the Fortunato Feature. I was transferred back to E as their sergeant major. George Green had been acting RSM and he was replaced by RSM Gunter, a senior man from the holding unit. Captain Brown of Fox troop wanted George Green back with him as they had been together for a year or two. It made no difference to me as I knew all the personnel in E troop. Capt Ernie Madden was E troop commander with Lt McIntyre and Lt Forget as gun position officer and troop leader. Before we left the Coriano area, we were called to an orders group on the outskirts of Coriano. I rode my motor bike up to the site. I saw where all were assembled and had a feeling that I should park my bike and take a leak even though I did not have to. I parked my bike, walked over to a lorry and unbuttoned my fly. At this moment a couple of armoured brigade officers drove past in a small armoured scout car. In a second I heard and felt a blast close by and on looking up saw a wheel from the scout car spinning twenty feet above my head. It soon landed and rolled down the hill. The scout car had run over a mine. The two officers were shook up, but not killed. If I had not stopped because I had this feeling I would, along with my motor bike, had been history. Someone was looking after me.

Our advance party was off again. This time we were to set up a gun position near an old Church. This Church, except for a pigpen, was not near any built up area. There were mines all over the hillside where the rains had exposed them. These mines were a yellow wooden box type. It was a sort of spooky place as when we arrived the British were burying a Canadian Sergeant from the 4th anti-tank regiment killed by friendly fire. The Brits thought the M10 tank destroyer coming out of the dust cloud was a German MK 4 and they mistakenly shot the destroyer commander. Sad fact. I wonder if the dead sergeant's folks ever knew how he was killed.

Soon the British unit had orders to move on, leaving us a chicken stewing up in a can which we ate. I started to look around and looked through an opening in the pigpen and saw a dead German in the pen. He must have crawled into the pen and was looking out the opening that I was looking in and either a sniper or a shell splinter killed him. All of us on the site felt this was one spooky place. As the afternoon wore on we had a surprise visit from the M10's of 4th anti tank and we found out here was a good friend of ours, Lt Rosie Rosenbaum, a troop leader. A good fellow, Rosie. He said it was a shock to lose his sergeant through the friendly fire incident. Lt Rosenbaum had been a member of the survey party 17th Fld regiment. He had been one of ours.

We had an evening meal and a motorcycle rider came to tell us the guns would not arrive as planned, but to stay where we were. We ate the chicken along with some hard tack and prepared to spend the night. I drew first shift. Picture this lonely old church, a burial that had happened, a dead man in the pig pen, plus a lot of shell damage to the church. It was a bright moonlight night. I was standing in the shadow at the door way keeping an eye on our vehicles. I heard one of the officers say Sergeant major, "Watch out! There sounds like a patrol coming alongside the church". I heard the officer say there must be a lot of them. Well I backed in beside the stairway and had the Tommy gun on full automatic. If there were that many coming where was any of the rest to help me. The next thing I heard was Orme Payne laugh and he came out to tell me all this great patrol turned out to be was a small rabbit thumping around the room where all were trying to sleep. It was shouldering furniture aside. Book cases were like feathers to this mighty rabbit. Least that is the way he played on every ones imagination. SOME HEROES!

About three a.m. on Gunner Bassham's shift there was a lot of noise and screams. "Tedeski returno Inglesh Inglesh". Bassham entered the room where the elderly caretaker couple were in their bed. The shell weakened ceiling came down on the poor scared old folks pinning them in their bed. Their screams were nerves shot from all they had been through. Bassham pulled the old couple out and we gave them some food and cigarettes and hoped they would not have anything more happen to them. Dear old souls.

Late September of 1944, in Fox troop we had a great tall gunner from Winnipeg called Bill Kolonoff. Bill and I had thrown our fart sacks (what we called sleeping bags), into a small chicken coop. This was alongside our troop command post. Mind you there were no chickens in the coop. As I went to go to sleep a small mouse tried to bury me by digging a hole near my feet. I do not like mice and least of all one that would try to bury me before I was dead. Maybe I smelled that way. This little mouse was very determined and resisted any attempt of my catching him, so I covered my head and closed all holes so that this mouse would stay out of my sleeping sack.

Bill Kolonoff on the other hand did not mind this mouse and did not help me discourage it either. I awoke some time in the early morning to see and hear Bill scurrying around. I thought that mouse has got him. But no such luck! I said Bill what are you doing. He replied that he was putting flea powder all through his fart sack . I just went back to sleep as I only feared the mouse not the fleas. Next morning Bill stood up, all 6 foot four of him, and said to take a look at these flea bites. Here was poor Bill with thousands of flea bites. Red spots so covered his body that you could not find a place to put a dime anywhere without covering a flea bite. I checked out my mouse who had piled some earth on my sack, but that was all. I escaped the MOUSE and THE FLEAS.

The Gothic Line. August, September 1944. I acknowledge the task of our infantry. They were the greatest. It was terrific that my life long friend Orme Payne was back in the same battery. On every advance party both of us were there. His mother told me to look after him. Orme relates it was my mother telling him to look out for me. Late in August, Lt McIntyre and I were at point 120 where the Cape Breton Highlanders had many killed and wounded. McIntyre and I were going over the area of this great battle. The Germans had cut every growing thing down to have an unobstructed view and created a killing zone. McIntyre and I walked along a path that the Highlanders had advanced to this hill. We counted 18 blood stained sets of webbing laying on this path spread at intervals where a Highlander had either been killed or wounded. It had a sobering effect on us.

We turned to go up point 120 and here built into the hillside were bunkers, deep into the hill, all framed and walled with boards with wooden stairs, and peering down we could see large reinforced rooms. McIntyre said let us go down these stairs. My reply was I doubt whether the engineers have been down and those stairs are likely booby trapped. So we continued up the hill coming upon a dead German who had been out in the hot sun for a spell. We left him as he was. We thought better of going to roll him over and souvenir hunt his pockets. Going up the hill, at every step we saw more and more thrown away German equipment, more dried blood on the road, and machine guns and empty cartridges by the thousands. The Germans had really been putting up a fight.

As we reached the top of the hill we met up with Colonel Bill Greenlay of the 11th Field Regt. RCA who told us he captured a German in the great network of trenches on the hilltop. The Colonel said he was exploring this long narrow trench when he spotted a German soldier seated at a bend in the trench. The trench was narrow and the Colonel pretty big. He had difficulty in getting his revolver out of his holster [not a quick draw chap was our Bill Greenlay]. So in English he said to the German, “Do not move and I will get the pistol out”. Of course the German did not move and surrendered to Colonel Greenlay.

At this point we met with a staff sergeant from the Highlanders who was full of vino. He had been preparing some four or so dead Highlanders for transport and final burial. The sun was extremely hot and the bodies were starting to smell. Colonel Greenlay started to give the Sergeant hell, “When are you going to get those smelly bodies out of here??” The Highlander Sgt replied , “As soon as the transport arrives I will have them removed.” Colonel Greenlay said, “It better be soon.” Lt McIntyre and I were not too impressed with Colonel Greenlay's insensitivity.

This area was like most of the Gothic Line with minefields every where. Some of the minefields were still marked and fenced with the achtung minen signs. The Germans had been pushed and did not have time to remove their signs.

Lt McIntyre was a city chap and was used to getting quite a kick out of reading a newspaper that either Orme or I had sent to us. This was the Swift Current Sun from the small city of the same name in Saskatchewan. McIntyre would read out the local news items submitted from locals at Neville or Cabri or Pambrun or Vanguard or many of the other small prairie towns. In these local reports Mrs Slim Benson may, along with some others, have had a bake sale to purchase cigarettes to send overseas, or someone from Toronto, or from as far away as Regina was visiting in one of the small towns. McIntyre thought all these items were terrific and it sounded even more so when he read them out.

Oh yes, some of it was fun and the comradeship of these fellow gunners so many years just made it so. On one advance party McIntyre and I came upon an exhausted cow that had run and run from shell fire. It was almost dead. McIntyre, a city boy, had never seen an animal in such distress. I thought we had better put the animal down so I coached McIntyre how to shoot this poor animal.

After this we walked along a path, heard a rustle, and saw a black snake wiggle away through some underbrush. This snake was about six feet long and had a body about an inch and a half in diameter with a small head compared to the body. This was the only snake I ever saw in Italy. It was apparently not a poisonous variety .

At this moment we heard some shooting and hurried to where our vehicles were parked. Here stood Orme Payne revolver in hand scattering grain down for chickens then neatly dispatching a chicken or two for supper. Head shot did not ruin the carcass.

This was the time of the year the God's were on the German side as the clouds opened and rain fell. Bridges were washed out and the tanks were getting bogged down in mud. Cloud cover cut down on our aircraft flying very many sorties.

Italy late September 1944. The rains had started and it appeared that the GOTT MIT UNS were getting the weather break. Our infantry went from one river crossing to the next one. It became the old refrain "One more river to cross", and the weather and enemy were both taking their toll of the troops and equipment.

On the move to an area near the Salto River to select a new gun position, Lt Mark Forget and I were getting E troop position flagged. This position was in a flat meadow devoid of any trees with a grape vine running along the rear of the meadow and about a half mile to our front was a line of trees bordering the Salto river. We had planted three flags for the first three gun positions and Lt Forget was taking his compass reading while I stepped off the yardage between flags. As we went to plant the last flag a rifle bullet whizzed into the earth about ten feet from us.

Lt Forget said, "What was that?" I said, "A sniper shot at us. Where do you want this flag and let us get the hell out of here." With that I threw the flag like a javelin and we left the area. No other shots were fired. Whoever fired the shot was some distance away. We joined the others in a farm house about a half mile to our rear. Orme Payne had established communications with the regiment and battery, having laid a telephone line. Johnny Wiebe with the survey section, Telfer, Goldstone, Tumino and the rest had received the proper regimental survey from the First Survey Regiment.

We had communication and proper survey. All set for the guns. A phone call ordered the advance party to remain where it was for the night as the infantry had another river, the Fiumicino, to cross. The guns were in a much better position to give the infantry support in the position they occupied. We settled in for the night and waited for tomorrow.

Italy, near the Salto River, late September 1944. The guns were not due until tomorrow so we made some supper of bully hard tack and melted cheese and tea. George Green, the other Sgt Major on this advance party, had a large boil on the back of his neck giving him a lot of pain. But nothing like the pain [Payne] he was about to endure. He asked Orme Payne to have a look at this boil and see if the core would pop out. Orme said he would give it a try. Green was a big man 6 foot four and a good 230 pounds. Orme said he would have Green kneel as he was too tall for Orme to reach this boil. With a thumb on each side of the boil Orme exerted extreme pressure. We were all keeping an eye on this operation, the more pressure Orme placed on the boil the more sweat ran down Green's face. Green was getting purple and Orme was carrying on a good bit where Green could not see him. This diversion caused us a brief moment of something that of course was at Green's expense.

Now it was time to hit the fart sacks and go to sleep. Orme had it in his mind to sleep upstairs in a large spacious room rather then with all of us on the floor. Here is where he and I had the argument whose mother said to look after who and I won out as Orme gave up on listening to me rant about him sleeping upstairs and threw his fart sack down beside mine. Just then the Perth Battalion came trudging up and settled in around our house. So we were well protected.

We went to sleep then rudely awakened with some large caliber shells pounding around the immediate area. In next moment we were almost sucked up out of our sacks as a shell made a direct hit on the roof. The room was full of dust and bricks were flying down the stair case. We all checked to see if we were all okay and found we were. I said that if I could get my pipe and matches I will be okay. Orme said that his mosquito netting saved him. A sergeant from the Perth 's came to the door with a Perth private who had been hit with a brick that came flying down the staircase. This brick came down the staircase and out into the yard hitting the Perth soldier in the ankle.

The next morning Orme and I went up to the room where he was making an argument to sleep up there. Directly above where he was going to sleep was a ten foot diameter hole in the roof with the tiles and timber shattered by the force of the explosion. Orme knew then it was his mother that told me to look after him as he only slept down on the floor with the rest of us to shut me up. This gun had fired quite a few more times and all mighty close to the house sending some pieces rattling off the wall. We were fortunate not to have been all killed or wounded. Those old Italian houses were lifesavers.

The next morning we met the guns and led them to their gun positions. The crews started to dig gun pits immediately after getting on line and as each gun was ready to roll into the gun pit it would have to get a new line from the gun position officer. This process was completed until all were in position. Camouflage nets up and ready for whatever action called for.

This was a period when diarrhea was in full control, brought on by eating tons of unwashed grapes. I was no exemption and usually had eaten more than my share of grapes. Knobby Clark and I were around the gun position and both had violent cramps. We went over to the small grapevine that had a furrow running along the base of this vine. When you have eaten tons of grapes seeds and all it is just common sense when you down your drawers that you face anyone else in the same situation, as the explosive force of this pent up gas would send the grape seed flying like buck shot and could stone a buddy to death at ten paces. You picture Knobby and I facings each other and all this violent gaseous happenings.

Just then the Germans started to mortar bomb the road with each exploding bomb getting closer to us. Knobby said that those beggars were ranging on us could I quit. I said no, and he said neither can I. The next group of bombs came down to our right side and set a Cape Breton bren carrier on fire. Then the bombs started to hit to our immediate front. Knobby and I flattened out in the ditch. The bombs rained down cutting grapes and showering leaves down on our bare bottoms. Between bursts I looked towards the nearest gun and here Sgt Sid Robertson was hunkered down in his gun pit laughing his head off. Soon the mortaring went past us then stopped. Knobby and I pulled up our pants and checked if anything or anyone was hurt.

I then walked over to Sid Robertson and asked him what was so funny during this stonk of mortars? Sid said all he could see above the furrow was two bare asses and they just struck him as funny as he was sure one of or both those behinds were going to get hit. Well we came through that stonk a-okay being caught with pants down, but still survived.

Italy, about 26th or 27th of September, near the Salto River. Our troop was well dug in and we were preparing to support the crossing of the Fiumicino River by our brigade. Our gun position area had received a lot of rain and the slit trenches were full of water. The off duty gunners and command post were in a large barn with a loft. I remember at breakfast on our second day in this position that the Germans started to shell the area. A lot of the shells went into the soft ground some distance before exploding, showering dirt and clods of mud down around us. About ten of us had our heads hunkered behind the water truck. The shelling increased in violence and now the shell splinters were winging off the cook's large dixies of porridge and tea.

Sgt Roy Johnson's gun tractor went up in flames so this had the Germans throwing the shells into the vicinity of the burning tractor. Sgt Johnson, who we called Smiler, started to curse when he saw his gun tractor blazing away. I told Smiler he would now get a new tractor instead of that old one that had been across the desert. He said to hell with the tractor, those so and so 's have burned up my best battle dress which was in the tractor.

Soon the shelling was over so we hurried and had some breakfast. We did not have any killed or wounded at breakfast but about ten o’clock in the morning a lone shell crashed well in front of the guns. Art Ulley was walking 2or 3 hundred feet from the bursting shell and was killed instantly.

That evening I was up in the loft of this building when I heard some moaning minnies groan and moan away then explode in the vicinity of Lt Ross with Fox troop. Lt Ross had a chap wounded this night and a couple more flooded out of a low lying ditch where they had dug their trench. This happened on September 28th.

Getting up next morning we were officially told that my troop Captain, Ernie Madden, was missing and believed captured. We have since been told that Capt Madden had left his observation tank and crew to scout a new observation post to enable him to have a better view across the Fiumicino River. This was where the Irish regiment of Canada was located.

More bad news as we were told that about 75 of the Irish Regiment of Canada, the whole company, were taken prisoner, leaving a couple dead and two wounded. This was in the area that Capt Madden, we thought, was checking for a new observation post. A great flap was on as Ernie Madden would have been captured with all the codes and maps. All our codes were changed immediately.

Italy, 29th September, 1944. It was verified that Ernie Madden had been captured. The Germans certainly gave all our gun areas a shelling. They seemed to know more about our positions because all maps and codes had been captured along with Capt Madden. While this terrific shelling was happening, Sgt Robertson was bailing water out of his gun pit and putting out the blazing camouflage netting with the bailed water. Between bursting shells he saw a person running through this shell fire and when a group of shells all landed at once he thought this running figure had been killed, but no, again the runner was still going and eventually came past Sid's gun.

The running figure was Billy Briant a signaller who was out in front running with the signal wire going through his hand as he located and fixed shell torn breaks in the line. Nobody ever thought to see Billy receive a medal, as he kept the needed communications open. Billy’s claim to fame in the segment where we landed in Liverpool was as the fellow that the seagull crapped in his mouth.

In this position I passed out the rum ration or rum. I had given everyone in the shed their drink of rum then went out to the guns taking WK Hutchinson with me. Hutchie loved a drink, so before we arrived at a gun and in between guns I would say, Hutchie have you had your drink yet? The answer was always no, so by the time we returned to the shed and command post Hutchie had quite a number of drinks. Hutchie started to talk a mile a minute. The duty officer asked if Hutchinson was drunk. I said no sir, it is the cold night air and he was quite chilled and the shot of rum seems to have taken a hold of him.

When I went to the rear of the shed to say keep a low tone to Hutchie, he was trying to organize a raid on the German lines to get Captain Madden back. But that went for nothing as Hutchie was soon asleep with no harm done.

The rains had been almost non-stop and we at the guns could not really know what our infantry friends were putting up with in the way of a downright miserable lousy time.

Somewhere in this area of mud we were visited by pilots of the City Of Windsor Spit bomb squadron. We could not imagine how they could fly through the thousands of shell thrown at them when they dived in to bomb and strafe the enemy. Their answer was we have our eye on the target and we are always trying to see which one of us can get almost to tree top level before releasing our bomb. After the bomb is gone we do a strafing run then it is home to base, shower, a glass or two of wine and into a clean bed and up, weather permitting, to do it again. Now the pilots turned to us and said we fly over you every day and see up to your hinders in mud and water. How can you live like that and still fight?? They thought highly of us ground troops as we did of their daring feats of courage.

I had a trip to take Bill Mennie to the RHQ to see the doctor. There I had a couple of shots of rum from the adjutant Capt Lucky Fair. Chuck Watson said Gordie your confirmation as a WO2 is almost due and it looks like Paul Shkwarek will be here before that date I said it does not seem fair to go through the last 55 or so days in action and miss the confirmation by a day.

Lucky Fair heard all this and said Gordie you have never had a leave here in Italy. We are going to issue you a two day pass to the rest center called the Albergo Grande in Riccione when that is up you will have a confirmed rank and will not be back down to Sergeant. I picked up the pass and proceeded to take Bill Mennie back to our gun position.

As Bill Mennie and I were returning to our gun position I noticed that our rear bike tire was going flat. Looking into a farmyard I saw a lorry parked there and a couple of tank troopers firing weapons, at chickens I guessed. So we went into the yard and to get our tire pumped up. I asked if they were shooting chickens and they said yes, but they could not hit any. I asked what they were using, one trooper said a Tommy gun and the other said a 303 rifle army issue. I asked for the rifle to see if I could get a chicken.

N ow where are these elusive fowl? They said up near that hedge. Just then the chickens went flying out of the hedge on the run. I hip fired two or three shots and killed two chickens. Handing the rifle back to the pleased troopers I said I'm sorry I shot those chickens through the body. If I had not had that rum at RHQ I would have head shot them. With that smart ass statement I felt Mennie tug my arm and say let us get out of here because these fellows will likely shoot us for being so smart ass. We left and for the first hundred feet or so I thought they might wing a shot over our heads.

The next two days I was in the Albergo Grande Riccione. Sgt Sid Robertson was given a week or so to help run this leave center so we teamed up and had a good couple of days. We even raided our own quarter master stores for a few items. Our quarter masters and their staff had it rough with the best of billets, the first grab at the rations, and the rum, also the best of battle dress and socks.

We were near the Salto River in October 1944 and someone decided to delve into ancient history. Here we were told that the Fiumicno River was sometimes called the false Rubicon where Caesar and his massive army including elephants were stalled. Well the mighty Maroon Machine was stalled too with not elephants but tanks, all due to weather, rain and more rain. Bridges were flooded out.

In a lot of cases our infantry had crossed rivers and found that the rapidly rising water behind them closed off any supplies or support. During this period we had many planned attacks cancelled due to lack of bridges, mud and in general, foul weather. The weather did start to dry around October 21st and the slugging and slogging of our infantry continued to advance. In early November some time around the 4th we came out of the line. We had just completed some 73 days in action without being out of German gun range or they of ours.

Our base for a rest was Fossombrone. Our battery was billeted in an old storage shed. Officers and sergeants were in various houses some shared with the civilians. Here is where Bobby Cochrane received his first wound stripe in a humorous way. In the old building was a long trek out to the street to go to a pit toilet. Now Bobby loved to entertain, play the fiddle, tap dance and of course loved a glass or two of vino. This evening Bobby woke up and having a full bladder knew he had a German gas can handy to relieve himself. Finding this in the dark was hard enough, but to pee into the three inch opening in the dark was quite a feat, so Bobby thought after doing pretty good hitting the hole decided to light either a match or a lighter to check. Well the hot urine caused gasoline fumes to rise and come out the opening of the gas can. When the open flame was near WHOOOSH a tongue of flame leaped out scorching his manhood as you would scorch a wiener on a stick at the beach.

Gordie in Fossombrone, 1944.

Fossombrone was much like any small Italian town with old buildings and really not a display of being a wealthy town. The people were rather reserved at first, but soldiers, no matter what army, usually get to know the children. Children are curious and soon were looking out for their favourite soldier, some to just walk along with him, others to cage a cigarette for poppa or a chocolate bar for themselves. Canadians were sort of soft characters with the civilians and in most cases were good to them. Some white flour for Mama who would do up a feed of chicken and spaghetti. There must have been at least ten or so civilians in the lower part of the house where our sergeants and sgt majors were, mostly older ladies and some children.

Pop Barkwell was a Sergeant in F troop. Pop was older by ten years at least than most of us. He loved to go downstairs and visit with the elderly ladies. They loved him and after a few glasses of vino Pop would tweak the elderly ladies cheeks. Pop really could not talk any Italian but with the vino helping Pop's great laughter, the world was as rosy as the circumstances could be.

It was a fun time for Pop and he certainly brightened all around him including the rest of us. One night when Pop was down drinking and laughing with the ladies Orme decided to give Pop a ride on his bed when he came in to go to bed. Pop slept on a door to keep him off the cold concrete floor. Orme, Sid, and I had been out chopping down telegraph poles so we had some nice short lengths of pole. Good rollers, so Orme positioned one roller under the foot of Pop's door and the other at the head and using a piece of wood set it so a fair amount of movement would send the door shooting across the floor with Pop on it.

We put our candles out and settled in for Pop to come in. Pop came up the stairs singing away happy as a little boy. Seeing lights were out he sort of suspected something and muttered away that I know you beggars are not asleep. Noone answered so we heard him take his clothes off and what he did was get under his blankets then put both feet in the air getting the blankets to swing under him. As Pop did this, away he went scooting across the floor, door, blankets, and all. His words were, "Damn you Payne." Now how did he know Orme set that up. A good laugh was had and so to sleep. We were still boys at heart.

While we were in this rest area we went to Urbino, a town not too far away to see #1 Canadian entertainment company. This was a travelling army show. All of us that attended enjoyed every moment of it. In the show there was a black girl from Detroit that was too young to join the USA forces so she came across at Windsor and joined the CWAC's. This girl sang the GI Jive "Man o' Live". She was terrific great slim young person that put it all out in her rendition of this one particular song.

After the concert was over we met up with some of the Irish Regiment sergeants. Our battery always supported the Irish if they were in a fight. In a shrine upstairs at our house in Fossombrone, we had our liquor ration with some ten or twelve bottles of Scotch and a bottle or two of Rye. All this was saved for a special occasion, like the war over, someone's birthday, or plain and simple when the time was ripe to open the cache. The long and short of it we invited the Sgts from the Irish to get a truck and visit us and we would drink this liquor. It was a fine way to cement Infantry and artillery relations.

Fossombrone Italy, November 1944. I have in my possession a German issue belt buckle. It is one of those "GOTT MIT UNS" with the eagle and the swastika. I had the belt with this buckle, a great pure leather belt. Well that buckle sabotaged me so I threw the leather belt away. I was sound asleep under my blankets on the second floor of this old house in Fossombrone. I awoke with a tremendous tummy ache and a stomach really distended. I knew I had to move fast so leaped out of my fart sack put on my summer slacks and buckled the German belt. Down the stairs I ran and when I reached the door I hollered at the sentry not to stop me as I had not a second to lose making my way to an outdoor pit toilet. As rounded the corner of the house and down a short lane.

To make a little time I went to undo the belt buckle, but the more I tried that buckle was not coming undone. My stomach was so tight against the buckle it just was impossible. I stepped over the broken down rock wall, well disaster, an absolute explosion. What a mess! Mind you after all that I could get it unbuckled. Too late, so I threw my underwear shorts down the pit and carried my soiled summer slacks back. Stopping at the sentry who saw me with an exposed hind end and knew what had happened. I said do not tell anyone when he got off shift. He assured me he would keep his mouth shut. I went and cleaned up. This was around 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., by breakfast at 7 a.m. the whole battery, all 200, knew that the Sergeant Major had shit himself. Oh the loss of dignity.

German issue belt buckle.

Our stay in the town of Fossombrone soon came to an end and in November back we went into action. I always felt that going back in our coming out of the front was equally dangerous. The Germans seemed to know when large units were coming and going and took this time to increase patrols and counterattacks, thinking they would catch our troops at a critical time of change over. I felt the roads in and out at this time were subjected to an increase of very accurate shelling.

Once in position being around the guns a routine was established. If we were fortunate enough to have a couple of casas near where we could have our command post and kitchen, the outlook was not too bleak compared to our infantry comrades. How they survived at this time when the rain had filled their slit trenches and soaked them 24 hours a day. We arrived back at the front through uneventful soft wet fields and muddy roads. This time we were in support of the 12th Infantry Brigade.

The 12th were made up from disbanding the 1st LAA RCA regiment and making foot soldiers out of the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards who had to get out of their armoured cars and be foot sloggers. The third battalion of the Brigade was the Westminster regiment which was a motorized battalion. Supporting this Brigade was the 11 Army Field regiment RCA now no longer the 11 Army Field Regiment, but 11 Field Regiment RCA. They being army troops did not like losing the army title. When they disbanded the 1st LAA RCA we had Lt Cam Leckie join the 60th Battery in October.

Somewhere during this time there was a German fighter pilot whom we called the mad Major that used to fly at low level along the roads shooting at everything that was moving and would get the odd truck or jeep. He flew so low that our antiaircraft guns could not depress enough because if they did their shells would be striking amongst us. I was walking across a field with one of our fellows and saw to our rear that a medium battery was firing every few moments. We could see the gun illuminated by the muzzle flash. The next thing there was a German air plane just a few feet above our heads. When the gun fired again the air plane shifted his angle and started firing all his wing mounted cannons at this medium gun. His empty cannon cartridges rained down just in front of us and we could see them still falling as he dove on the medium gun. The gun in question was likely from the 2nd Medium Regt RCA. I do not know if he hit any one at the gun, but he certainly was diving directly toward it with all cannon blazing. This pilot seemed to have a charmed life.

Another time this same pilot flew over a house we were in, attracted to a massive chimney fire. These old Italian houses never had a chimney cleaned in years so the accumulated creosote was inches thick inside the chimney, resulting in our chaps really sending up a massive smoke. I had someone try to put out the chimney flame. The result was that the steam from the water dousing the fire expanded and almost blew the chimney apart. Just as we had the smoke quelled this pilot flew over and let go a couple of bombs which whistled over the house and struck the crossroad close by. I think he set one vehicle on fire.

Just as the bomb burst, or moments after, into the house came a chap by the name of Tucker. He was mud and barnyard filth from the top of his head to toes. Tucker had been sitting on the make shift toilet rail, trousers down when the plane let the bombs go just overhead. In a flash he hit the dirt and I mean dirt. All chicken dung and a layer of slimy mud. What a sight! It gave all of us a laugh, but I cannot remember Tucker laughing.

Godo Italy, December 1944. Some good news, like Ravenna had fallen and this was of great interest to Floyd Brooks as he had spent some time in his university days in and around Ravenna and knew the ancient history of this old city. We had just set up around Godo when I had a call from the adjutant saying that the colonel was ordering me to take a patrol out to the rear of our area as there was a lot of the enemy had been bypassed. The reason for this was the 8th Fld Regt RCA had this day captured some Germans and this he saw as a challenge that we must bag some. As the message was relayed through our Battery, HQ the patrol I was to take out was the bren gunners and assorted personnel from BHQ, a total of about fifteen. Lt Ross, hearing this, said he would like to go along as an observer, which was okay by me.

We set off meeting up with the assembled group. I knew all of these fellows and said now we will spread out a good distance apart and nobody to get too anxious to win the VC, just be disciplined and we would be okay. Right off the bat I realized we were in trouble. As we approached the railway line running along the rear of Godo, we came upon a whole company of the Lanark and Renfrew infantry from 12th Infantry Brigade. This whole company was laying down behind the railway tracks with rifles, bren guns, and Tommy guns all pointing to the rear and in the direction we were going. These infantry chaps wondered what was up as they were laying low waiting to attack a house less then a half mile away. That should have told us to pack it up and go back to our guns, but we had an order so on we went.

The patrol kept bunching up and I could smell disaster. If a machine gun in the house ahead opened up we were dead gunners. How to get through to this group who were sure they could take on the world was something else. Just about a couple of hundred yards from a large stone house we saw a couple of very well dressed civilians coming down a road to our flank. We swung over and stopped this couple. One was a tall distinguished gentleman wearing a new black coat and wearing a black homburg hat, and the other was shorter and not quite as well dressed. On questioning this pair the taller one spoke good English and said there are no BOCHE around here. They have all gone. He had either a car dealership or something like that. Their papers seemed in order so we let them proceed to where we had just come from and that was Godo.

I decided that in my mind that house that now was not far away was not a place for our patrol to have anything to do with. The large stone house seemed to be sending out vibes that were not welcoming us. I said we are going to cancel this patrol right now and go back to our respective troop positions. As we came back towards the railway an officer of the Lanark and Renfrew blew his whistle. His company of about fifty rose up and in extended line started towards the house that I deemed too dangerous for a group that did not know squat what would happen if a machine gun did open up on them.

In an hour or so I was told that the infantry advancing on that house had a real sharp exchange of fire which lasted for some time and eventually took about a hundred prisoners. Why the Germans never opened up on us I will never know, but maybe they thought we would not fire a shot and walk right into their arms and be their way out from the spot they were in. The next day I saw the great bag of prisoners under guard in Godo. The two civilians were also under guard. The same two civilians that we had checked. Lt Ross and I talking about it later said we should have figured the civilians as phonies as no Italian ever called the Germans the Boche. The Italians and all of us called the Germans Tedeski.

Orme Payne told me later that the house they were in had some civilians staying there. Along came some Italian Partisans and asked if the Padrone was around. Whoever they asked told them where the civilians were, not really thinking much about it. The partisans [rough looking and tough acting beggars] went into the house and came out with the civilians and walked out of sight from our fellows. Shots rang out, and when our chaps went to see what the shooting was all about as they came around the house the partisans were gone, but the civilians were all dead. No explanation. They just came in, murdered some civilians, and disappeared. War is not a pleasant pastime with old scores being settled by different factions, but it was rather hard to understand too.

Piangepane Italy, December 1944. Before arriving at this village we had been in a couple or so more gun positions and had fired in support of our infantry and First Div infantry. This was a part of Italy where it was always another river or canal or numerous drainage ditches to cross, all resulting in a lot of infantry causalities.

The enemy was really dug in, and every haystack and every house was a fortress. Our infantry was by now very under strength, as except for a short rest in November they had all been in action since August. There was also an ammunition shortage. The reason for this was the western front was given the priority for personnel and equipment and munitions. Another reason was the 4th Indian Division and the 78th British divisions, with supporting artillery, went to Greece and took a major share of munitions with them. This was to quell the Greek civil uprising. I think the Greek Brigade went back too.

This period in December our guns were used primarily on main attacks, but were not doing the amount of harassing fire or counter battery work. It was five rounds per day, per gun perhaps. Even though we did have about 500 rounds per gun in case of a major counter attack. On a clear cool day we would hear the drumming of mortar bombs landing on our front line troops and this drumming would turn to a roar and we at the guns would be ready and eager to fire to alleviate this terrible mortaring. But no orders came to fire and by this time the dust and smoke would be rising up from all this bombing. All we could do or say was those poor beggars are sure getting the shit kicked out of them. In this time frame, word came back from our forward observation officer that a platoon of the Perth regiment had been wiped out long one of these drainage ditches. The Perth later in the campaign took a terrific toll on the enemy when they caught the enemy advancing across a flat open area.

As our advance party went into the village of Piangipane we came upon quite a carnage of horses and men, all dead. The Westminster Regiment had caught a German column of mostly horse drawn wagons, accompanied with quite a lot of troops. The fifty caliber machine guns of the Westies had made short work of all in their path. The dead Germans were without their jackboots and socks. The Italian civilians had pulled boots and socks off the dead before they were cold. Also the Westies captured a couple of brand new self propelled guns that had just been delivered as the odometer had less the 20 kilometers showing. It was quite a coup. The Westies were no strangers to pulling off some great victories when victories were hard to get.

Piangipane, Italy was a good gun position and we did not get any shelling right on the guns, but there was some along the road. A sort of different experience happened to I/Sgt Bill Copithorn along this roadway. Bill was laying telephone wire to replace wire torn up by shell fire. The worst enemy to our communication wire was our own Brigade tanks who could tangle up hundreds of yards of wire on their tracks. Bill had to take cover in a water filled ditch on a moonlight night. Bill was under a pretty heavy shelling. When he heard a shell he inadvertently would crouch down and as he crouched down it seemed that a face rose up out of the water.

The second time this happened Bill knew that was a face. Here he was standing on the feet of a dead German submerged in the ditch and as Bill crouched he put pressure on the legs and the face would rise up to greet him. Bill said shells or no shells he was getting out of that ditch, which he did, arriving back at Fox troop with a story to tell and a bit gray at the gill.

In December we were somewhere between Villanova and to our right Mezzano. On one advance party in this area I went into the large house to tell the civilians it was our intention to set up our guns in and around their buildings. The civilians should move out because when we started to fire our guns, Tedeski would not like it and would fire back. We did not want women and children to be causalities. There were a lot of tears and all would leave except an older man who had been on the land for years. He would stay to look after any livestock and hope we would not wreck his buildings.

In this particular house I asked in broken Italian if Tedeski had been sleeping or had been here last night. This old fellow said no, niente Tedeski. Well I went upstairs and said to him Tedeski slept there over there and in fact I said about ten had slept in this room last night. The old fellow looked at me as if I had second sight. But here was my secret. I could smell Tedeski. I knew he had been here. Then upstairs each spot that Tedeski had his blankets down was a spot not dust covered as these old houses when under shell fire rained a shower of dust. The smell, well my dad always spoke of that from his first war experience with the Germans. It was a musky type of smell. But I impressed the old Italian fellow even if it was no big deal.

Somewhere in this area we had a gun position near a house and in this house were quite a few older and younger women and a couple of older fellows. We were to learn the younger men had been captured in the desert or were on the Russian Front with the Blue [Italian] Brigade or some of the men were conscripted to work on labor battalions for the Germans. One of the women about 28 or so was very pregnant. A couple of days after we left this area, a driver with a truck and I went back to this house to pick up some signs. The much pregnant girl of a day or so ago was really excited and grabbed the driver and I by the arms and took us into the house. She had her baby, we ascertained from what she told us, at ten o’clock that morning and here at two o’clock in the afternoon of the same day she was out working in the fields.

The weather during late December was quite cool. The white frost and the low misty mornings that lasted well into midday. Our infantry peered into this gloom and imaginations must have been rampant as trees that appeared from the fog would look like German infantry. I guess in some incidents a German patrol did swoop in and capture a section or so. During these foggy cool mornings, how very quiet the war suddenly became. No bursting shells or diving air craft, just quietness. Gun crews on these foggy mornings were especially alert, as we never knew when we were to be called for DF targets, (defensive fire). These targets had been registered earlier and could be called and fired in moments and mostly in seconds. Most of these targets would have been in our immediate front and would come bursting down on any counter attack advancing on our forward troops.

As Christmas approached thoughts of home and our fifth Christmas in the army and the war not over was in our minds. Some had Dear John letters, where wives had just given up on waiting and wrote and told their husbands so. For those this was a bleak time. The rest of us hoped this was to be our last Christmas away from home. Mail started to arrive much better now than it did a few months ago. Most of the mail now came by air. How we blessed all the Mums, Dads and in-laws and out laws for sending us parcels and writing the hundreds of letters all these years, and sending over the cigarettes. We even thought how fortunate we were because we knew we were still alive, while those at home would really not know from one day to the next were we alive, wounded, or dead. We lived for the letters from home and the folks that wrote so faithfully will never know the hope and boost to our morale those letters gave us.

The hours loved ones spent wrapping parcels and sewing the cloth covering, mailing them and with the hope the parcels would get through to us without being sunk by U boats or shot down from the skies. Some parcels did arrive soaked in fire extinguisher fluid where a fire had occurred on board a ship and the flames put out. The contents were saved except for cake or cookies, canned food survived. I had a yen that I would like my Mum to send me a can of Sauerkraut and in due course it arrived. We had a few sauerkraut eaters and two or three come to mind, Bassham, Lou Gravem, and Torgunrud. Here is where it got interesting as I pulled the can of sauerkraut out of the parcel, out of the air it seemed that Bassham arrived with a can opener and Lou Gravem and a couple more all descended on me with forks and spoons. Needless to say this was a scene out of somewhere and I find that words do not describe the emptying of that can of sauerkraut.

To some this was a moment that brought home and family right into that old barn loft in Italy. The can emptied and we all sat back as great smiles wreathed the faces of the kraut eaters. Some said how did your Mum ever think of sending such a treat over to you?

Some time before Christmas 1944 we were not far from the Lamone River. Fox troop command post Lt Ross received a call from Easy Troop Lt Rollie Ellison asking Lt Ross to send Sgt Major Bannerman over to pick up one of his gunners who was drunk. He was Gunner Lou Gravem. I struck off across the field to Easy Troop thinking that Lou Gavem would never make a nuisance of himself. On arriving at Easy Troop here was Lou out in the yard of Easy Troop house and along with him was Lt Ellison and E Troop Sgt major Shkwarek. Lt Ellison spoke up Sgt major Bannerman put this man under arrest for being drunk while in action. My reply was he does seem drunk to me. If you want him arrested you or Sgt Major Shkwarek better do it as Gravem is in good shape as far as I'm concerned.

Again Ellison said are you putting him under arrest and I said no. Ellison then remarked it looked like I was the kind of a Sgt major who stuck up for the men, but not the officers and as we left his parting words were, you will hear of this in the morning. Which we did. We were notified that indeed Ellison had charged Gravem, and this was a serious charge. I had a few words with the adjutant regarding the charge against Gravem and what a hard working trouble free type of fellow Gravem.

I picked up Gravem and we appeared at RHQ. The RSM marched Gravem into the colonel. He was marched in and the charges laid, drunken in the face of the enemy or some such phrasing, the colonel looked at Gravem and said had you been drinking? Gravem said yes he may have had a glass or two of wine. The Colonel said could it have been three or four glasses of wine? Gravem said well it could have been. Now at this Gravem said the Colonel started to chuckle so Gravem thought that a good idea and laughed too and noted that the RSM and Ellison were chuckling too. The next thing the Colonel said was case dismissed and a Merry Christmas to you. Gravem answered and the same to you sir

Naviglio, Italy was a gun position that Fox troop occupied over Christmas 1944. There was little firing or aircraft activity. I heard E troop guns fire a few shots. I had been in our command post and did not hear E troop getting any orders to fire their guns. The next day I had occasion to wander over to E troop and was talking to Sid Robertson saying I heard a gun firing over here last night, but did not hear any fire order. Sid said I felt the Germans needed awaking and I thought we better wake them up. No reason for those beggars to be sleeping. So, Sid said, I cranked the elevation up a bit and fired a few rounds. To this day I cannot understand why or how Sid got away with that. How his Gun position officer did not hear the muzzle blast echoing off their house. But you had to know Sid. He was about ten years older than most f us and was a very capable man, but a born con man, scrounger, liberator of anything not bolted down, and even if it was bolted down if Sid thought his gun crew needed it, they had it. He was a good provider for his crew and was a brave man under shell fire.

In Fox troop area we had a good farm house and out buildings. The house was used for a command post and it and the out buildings sheltered the off duty gun crews and signallers. The farmer who was a man in his early fifties stayed in a room of the house. He looked after his livestock. As Christmas approached we bought chickens and I believe a turkey from him, paying in cigarettes. This farmer butchered and cleaned all the fowl and on getting some white flour he not only baked some bread in this great out door oven, he also roasted all the Christmas chickens too.

This old outdoor oven was very large and was brought up to roasting temperature by burning a lot of wood in the oven then as the wood went to red hot coals these coals were raked out. The Oven was built of blocks or stone covered with a hard baked surface. It was about six feet tall with a bottom storage for the wood. The oven was swiped with a wet mop and the bread dough, chickens or whatever were placed in to cook. Bread or chicken was taken from the oven by a wide long handled wooden flat ended shovel. What a tasty way to do the whole dinner. He supplied the wine too as each troop had a stand down period for Christmas. When we left this farm the farmer gave me a very fine bottle of Vermouth that he said was a very fine wine and I had treated him fairly and our gunners had not destroyed his property or shot all his chickens. Yes it was a good bottle, probably the best I ever drank.

Floyd [Major] Brooks had a way of finding where a herd of pigs was in danger of getting shelled. He would call some of the farm boys in the unit to rescue the pigs and see they were directed to dispatch and render the herd into chops and roasts. Sid would get a small lorry and into the truck he would load a barrel with a hatch like opening with a sliding door. Sid would take a couple of fellows with him and drive to the farm where he had seen the pigs. On arriving at the farm they would enter the house and buy a flagon or two of wine, and start drinking with the farmer. Everyone well into the vino, Sid would then slip outside catch a couple of medium sized pigs and put them in the barrel. He would come back into the house and say we have to go, goodnight all, and drive back to the gun position. Chops and Roasts were the order of the day once again.

Sid the great con man would go back o the farm where he stole the pigs and listen to the Italian farmer curse the EENGLEESH for stealing his pigs when he was entertaining Sid and his buddies the night before. Sid relates that the farmer made such a fuss he stole one more pig. On telling this story to another Italian farmer and saying the last pig was really small. This farmer then informed Sid that the first farmer was a Fascist and it served him right to get his pigs taken. Sid then bargained the little pig for some chickens, home cured sausage, and some wine.

On Christmas Eve of 1944 Orme Payne drove to see me at Fox troop and suggested we visit Sid Robertson at E Troop. We arrived at Sid's gun and someone suggested visiting all the rest of the regiment. Off to 60 battery to look up Toby Colpitts. When we drove into 60 Battery area we saw in the gloom figures dashing about in a frenzy of dust flying shouts and curses. We knew here was a spot that needed our expertise in the chasing and catching of chickens and we three we thought we were good at this sport. We caught a couple and asked where Toby was. We heard a voice up a tree and could see some white chickens in the tree and a pair of eyes, Toby's. All we saw was the whites of his eyes as Toby's skin went almost black from the Italian sun. Toby climbed down and immediately inquired what we three chicken catchers were up to. Also, did we have a drink for him? We did. Toby was asked to join we three on our recce to instill the spirit of good will to all men on this night, and possibly be treated to a drink or two when we called around to the other batteries. Toby said count him in.

Now four in the jeep and over to 37th Battery. No sentries! That is odd, but inside all four of us went. The #19 radio was on and a lantern lighted up the room. Over on a cot was the command post officer, Sgt Mutchison, asleep. Battery Sgt Major Green asleep, all signallers asleep. Immediately Toby spotted a large sawdust box filled with bottled beer. The gunner's beer ration of a bottle of beer per week, per month or never. Toby suggested we steal the lot. Here is where I put up my argument and Orme did too. It was gunner's beer and if we were to liberate it, we would take only one bottle each. That meant a stalemate. We each took a bottle and Sid had to steal a few items just to keep everybody honest he used to say. Out the door we went into the jeep and down the road where we stopped and enjoyed our bottle of beer and examined what Sid had liberated.

Time passes quickly to four fellows out roaming around and we found it was after midnight and we had not went to see the second in command of the regiment, Major Floyd Brooks [We called him Daddy Brooks]. We arrived well after 1AM at the house where Floyd Brooks was staying. Here we were challenged by the sentry at RHQ. We had the password so we went up the stairs of this old house, knocked and Floyd Brooks said come in. We trooped in and here was Floyd Brooks in a massive big bed, surrounded with a bottle or so of gin along a side board. Floyd’s Christmas greeting was hearty and said he thought we had forgotten him as he had been following our escapade around the regiment. Major Brooks had a heart of gold and gave us a warm greeting. Glasses were dug out and filled and we four sat on Floyd's bed and toasted him and ourselves. It was around 2AM and we were getting to the stage that we should be off the road as we had heard the odd shell passing over. Up to this time the guns, theirs and ours, were not crashing on Christmas Eve. So we bade Major Brooks a fond good night and a Merry Christmas. So it was back to our gun positions and ready for Christmas dinner later in the day.

Christmas day was celebrated very quietly on the gun position. Most of the gunners were thinking of home and loved ones and keeping warm. But this Christmas our cook, along with the Italian farm owner, cooked up a great meal that surpassed any we had for a long while. The old out door stone oven baked the chickens and turkey and loaves of bread to perfection. There was some extra chocolate bars and a bottle of beer, real Canadian beer, for the gunners. I wonder how much of this beer went missing at the loading port then on board ship, but I think that a tremendous amount was drank by our own quarter master 's crew. It was not often the gunner's had a bottle of Canadian beer. If I remember correctly the crews of the guns stood down in turn for their meal and it was a good one. There was mail from home to cap the day. Some of this mail was dated October, but some of it was late November and a few early December. We were glad to get it even though late.

After Christmas day I went over to Battery Headquarters and seeing I had filled in all Christmas day and did not have a drink, took the bottle of Vermouth over to BHQ and on the way had a few belts of this smooth old vermouth. I had a bodyguard along with me to see that I returned to the troop okay. None other then Lou Gravem who was not going to see the Boss wander around on his own. On arriving at BHQ there was a crap game going on. I was not a crap shooter or a poker player, but having a few Lira I joined the game. When it came my turn at the dice I had unbelievable good fortune, winning multi lira. All the good Allied Military Currency that I was winning. Lou kept jamming it into my uniform jacket saying Boss save all this good stuff, play with the old Italian bills. As the game progressed I was feeling the warmth of that fine vermouth and threw caution to the wind, throwing a four and taking all side bets I would make the near impossible four right back. Which I did! Soon I had most of the money and Lou saying it is time to go before you lend it all back and be playing against your money. We wandered back to the troop position counted our money and went to bed.

Next day a NAAFI ration Navy Army Air force Institute [another way the Brits had a strangle on any supplies to we Canucks]. Most of the fellows were broke so you know where my crap shooting money went. Easy come easy go, and the chaps got the soap and what not and I was once again without any Lira. But I did have a lot of fun while it lasted.

The last days of 1944 were spent in a couple of moves. The last move over to our right flank to support the drive to clean out the enemy around the large body of water called Lake Comacchio. This being accomplished, we moved again in the area of Mezzano. This is best remembered by the large sugar refinery along side the road. Here, like a member of the Westminster regiment, one of our gunners entered a captured self propelled gun and started to pull levers and switches resulting in firing the gun, sending a shell screaming into the distance. Our gunner like the Westminster private crawled out of the vehicle with ears ringing and really lucky not to have been hit with the recoil. Where the shell hit is anybody's guess.

On New Year's Day I went to Ravenna to have a tooth filled as the tooth had fallen apart. I travelled down a road near Piangipane where I was going to stop and see some of the civilian families that had fed us the spaghetti. I rode along thinking here in the rear area what a beautiful day it was for the start of 1945. All of a sudden I hit a lot of mortar bomb holes in the road causing the motor bike to really jump and buck and the next thing I knew I was flying through the air landing on my back, twisting my left arm, which I thought was dislocated. I ripped the knee out of my battle dress pants and a big hunk of hide from my knee. There was no one around so I shakily picked myself up checked for broken bones and whether the motor bike was okay.

The bike had a bent fender and twisted headlight which I pulled back in place. I checked my knee and applied a small shell dressing, then started the bike and proceeded to Piangipane. I stopped at the civilian house and had the knee cleaned and the asphalt pieces washed out of it. The Momma of the household mended my battle dress trousers and with the motor bike checked over I was off to Ravenna to our dentist.

Arriving at the dentist's truck I could see him sleeping on his cot so I hammered on the door. He had been out into the vino on New Year's eve and was in no mood to do any work. I went out and saw there was a dentist I think from the PLDG"S so went in to see if he could fix my tooth. This chap had six or seven men waiting. He said did you come down from the front Sergeant major? I said yes. Okay you're next in the chair. My reply was what about all these fellows waiting? Oh, he replied they are here and I can do them any day. Right there I had a filling of one tooth, the first in my 23 years. I stayed with a civilian family that night before going back to Mezzano.

Mezzano Italy, January 1945. While I was on my jaunt to the dentist on New Year's day our troops were astonished to see a flight of fighter bombers with US insignia roar down on a bridge in our area and attempt to strafe and bomb this bridge. Somehow they were supposed to bomb a road and bridge further north. Poor map reading or something. After all the diving and shooting, noone was hurt and the bridge left intact.

On the fourth of January we were told the tragic news that L/sgt Floyd Burton and Gnr Cowan had been killed at a crossroad near Mezzano, and Gnr Spink was badly injured. We were told it was a vehicle accident, but no further word. Floyd had been with Fox troop as a bombardier, received his promotion and was posted to 60 Battery. We were not given any particulars about the accident. In this area we had supported the clearing of the ground south of the Senio River and it looked like that was going to be our winter line.

While in this position the fox troop drivers were stationed at a house on Hwy#16 south of Mezzano just less than a half mile from fox troop gun position. This gave the drivers a short walk for meals at Fox troop house. I noticed that the drivers were getting a bit late in getting to meals and some started missing meals, also their general appearance was not up to Fox troop standard so I did a little leg work and found that they were operating a very good still converting the pretty powerful wine into pure alcohol, so white it almost gave off a blue aura.

I phoned Orme who was in the command post just close to Mezzano. I said we are about to teach the drivers a lesson and put the still out of business so how about it? Great, when do I meet you? I said after supper around six PM at the drivers' house. Count me in he said.

The drivers had a still operating and Bobby Cochrane was the chief distiller. I had a quart of lime cordial super strength. It would make a gallon of lime juice when water was added, a potent substance plus about three bottles of Guiness's stout. I drank a couple of raw eggs to line my stomach for the assault on the drivers' drinking prowess. I was to be the drivers' guest and said I will make you a Bannerman cocktail. Glasses were brought forward and into each glass I poured a layer of pure lime cordial [a nice green color]. Then on top of the cordial a good layer of the distilled liquor, another layer of stout, a layer of the lime, and topped off with a shot of the distilled booze. Down the hatch fellows.

After a couple of the Bannerman cocktails there was the sound of loud sickness, the numbers at the table decreased with Orme hanging in there. Again the glasses were charged and again we lost a few to the green. Then the phone rang and it was a call for Orme from the battery command post. It was Jack Beckwith phoning to tell Orme that he better come back as the main phone line to the observation officer was out. I said Orme send Bombardier Beckwith as you are in no shape to go. But Orme said he had to go.

Back I went to the table but only a couple were left standing, Curly Wells and Cochrane. I wandered back to our gun position the night's episode over. Next morning most of the drivers were at breakfast. But they were not going to let what I had done to them detain them from firing up the still, which they did. But it exploded, so as he told me later, it was not to be and Wells and Curly would see that the drivers would be dressed correctly, shaved and cleaned up and the vehicles would get all the care. Their word was good and I never had to scuttle this group of fine chaps again.

Beckwith had just called Orme on a phoney errand to see that he was recalled and rested for any emergency that might come up. Everyone looked after the other fellow.

Mezzano Italy, January 1945. Meazzano gun position was comparatively quiet with not much shelling. But our infantry had some pretty hairy scary times. They were mortared many times as just a dike separated the enemy from our troops. Some very ingenious means were thought up like throwing anti tank mines over with a jeep tube tied between a couple of posts the result was a giant sling shot. Another method was to bring up a 17 pounder anti tank gun and fire through the dike.

In this gun position I was sleeping upstairs in a great big bed and I knew it was not a good idea to sleep upstairs, but this was real luxury. One night I was awakened out of a sound sleep with the sound of a shell whistling over head. This gun fired again and again, all going well over to the rear. Mind you even though the shells were going well over I sort of wondered when he was going to drop his elevation and give us a dusting. This was likely the railroad gun and it certainly had my attention, but the bed was warm and it was clear and darn cold out, so I waited it out. Then it quit firing.

Next morning we were told this gun had dropped its shells around our rear echelon area and it had killed a Canadian Dentist, a Capt, White. The only dentist that lost his life during the war in Italy from enemy shellfire. Also likely the only time our rear echelon was shelled.

Before Christmas Elmer Applegren and Mickey Lalonde, two real characters were to pick up an Italian liaison officer from the observation post. Elmer and Mickey had stole some issue rum and were well braced for the cold. On the trip back one of them said to the other “I say old chap the Italians are noted for singing and dancing.” They stopped the jeep and ordered the Italian officer out and said now start singing and dancing. This officer knew little English, but he did know what this pair was up to when they swung their tommy guns and started to fire shots near his feet.

This officer, fearing for his life, shot out across the fields on the dead run with these two fools firing over his head. Once more Applegren and Lalonde got away with this and I suppose the Italian officer did not want to start an international situation and likely did not report it. This is where the Italian Cremona Division came into the line and we moved our guns back a mile or so.

The Italian group were the size of a brigade and were equipped with British transport and equipment. Doug Weir was an observation officer and helped train the Italians and saw that defensive fire plans were laid out so that the Germans would not be able to put forth a major counter attack. Doug had some hairy moments with the Italians and recalled that some forward positions changed hands a few times. The Italians thought because a lot of noise quite near to them that something should be done immediately. It sounded like a counter attack was forming up. Doug brought down close fire on the immediate area and a cow fell out of the bush quite dead. No counter attack, but a once noisy cow now quite still.

The day the Italians were to come into our area, we had orders to move to a distance to our rear. We moved one troop at a time and the crews from the guns dug new gun pits before the guns were moved in. Here is where I had a bit of a dust up with one gunner Charleston. Sgt Humble reported to me that Charleston was not on the gun position and had not been around to help in the move or dig the new gun pit. I had a hunch that Charleston was still at the area we had just vacated so back I went to this house and found Charleston well into the vino with the Italian civilians. Our troop had a good reputation for good discipline, an all round great group. I right away was on to Charleston for not moving with his crew, drinking on duty and in general I was pretty pissed off with him.

A few fine chosen words were exchanged and he accused me of playing favouritism within the troop. This did get my temper up as I felt that I went out of my way keeping all the troop on equal footing. How stupid did he think I was to see some treated better then others? I kept my cool and had him say his piece. How did he see me playing favorites? He said that I had given the observation tank crew signallers driver and officer assistant time to do their laundry and stand down without any duties for the day after they came back from the observation post.

The observation crew had been closeted in their tank for days and could not get out to relieve themselves. Doing what had to be done in cans and disposing of it out the trap door in the bottom of the tank. Their tank had been in an Italian shed which held some sheep a couple of goats and quite a few chickens. The Germans seemed to know where our observation officer and crew were, so this group of buildings suffered a terrific amount of shelling, killing all the sheep, goats, and chickens. This was not in January, but in August under a very trying time. Charleston had harbored this grudge for the last few months.

The Italian civilians could see a very nasty situation and were hoping that Charleston and I would get out of their house. Somehow I was able to get Charleston calmed down loaded him on the back of my motor bike and deposited him at the gun pit with Sgt Humble who gave him a shovel and had him dig with the rest of the crew. I could have laid any number of charges, but we were short of men and Charleston had let off steam so it was a closed chapter. I had another talk with Charleston about the favoritism and explained why the OP crew had a day off. I may not have handled everything the way all would liked, but my word was good. I stuck up for the gunners and I felt that I did not favor any over the other.

The only time our guns ever moved towards the rear was in this position. It looked like the Cremona Group may have some trouble with the Germans, especially when the Germans found out that they were being opposed by Italians.

We would be in a better position near a good supply road and better able to resist a counter attack. The day we moved it was snowing. Flakes as big as feathers were coming down, whipped along with a slight breeze. Digging gun pits and slit trenches was not any fun at the best of times, but under wet now, and digging half frozen earth made matters far worse.

Sgt Sid Robertson was a scrounger supreme. During this snow storm Sid thought it would be a good idea to get some rum for his crew and the rest of the troop. About this time a British unit was moving up past our area. Sid seeing the opportunity went over to the convoy and asked the nearest officer where their Colonel was. Here was a Canadian sergeant coming out of a snow storm enquiring where the Colonel was, from the first officer he ran into. This first officer was likely so taken aback at the sheer gall of this Canadian he replied that the Colonel was at the head of the column. Sid saluted the officer and thanked him for this information.

Sid marched down to the head of the convoy, found the British Colonel, saluted him and immediately shook hands with him. Within moments the Colonel was calling Sid by his first name and Sid was calling the Colonel by his first name. All this to the awe and utter disbelief of the rest of the British officers standing around. One of these officers standing was a major and he had the rest of the officers calling him Lord so and so. He was a titled gent with beautiful breeches and high knee boots polished. A bit out of place during a snowstorm and standing on a muddy road.

The colonel said to Sid is there anything I can do for you? Sid replied yes there is. If you look out into that field you will see a troop of gunners digging their gun pits and they are soaked to the ass. I was wondering if I could get a drop of rum for them. The colonel answered absolutely, Sid. Have you anything to put this rum into? Sid replied just by chance I have two water bottles inside my tunic. The colonel then directed the Lord so and so [the major] to go with his friend Sid to the supply truck and fill the water bottles with rum. This was carried out and Sid came back with the rum. That convoy was stopped overnight on the road and Sid went back and stole a gallon of rum right under their noses.

We were very young. We grew and hopefully matured with our fellow soldiers. We shared 24 hours a day with these fellows, the danger and the fun all blended together, and we remember the great times more often than the bad times. The comradeship of those days is something that only those of us were there can feel to each other.

At our gun position near Mezzano our forward troops and observation officers and staff had some stressful days especially with the rationing of ammunition. They could not fire on targets that would have been fired on in days past. At the guns during January we did not have much shelling and causalities were few.

On the 23rd of January the regiment had orders to move out of the line with our position taken over by the 2nd RCA. We limbered up the guns and in a cold windy snow storm started down the road, destination Cattolica. I was on my motor bike on this trip doing my share of point duty. It was cold as the devil. I had layers of clothes on and even then it was a cold drive down the road.

Coming along the road the convoy had stopped. Standing outside their vehicle was Orme Payne, Bassham, and I think, Jack Beckwith. I slithered to a stop beside them, [the road was icy] greeted them and said a snake had bitten me. Where, was the query? I said under all these clothes and in the middle of my back. They knew that I had a flask of Rum in a leather cover and they lost no time in unbuttoning and digging it out. The thing to do for snake bite was to drink that rum so, standing in the blowing snow, we proceeded to share the flask of rum.

The convoy started to move and we were on our way once again. I had not gone a half mile when I was flagged down at a lorry. Here someone decided that the motor bikes might get damaged if the road were to become in a more icy state. The bikes were all loaded [ no worry about the bike riders just the bikes]. I then was picked up by Lt Alex Ross who was seated in TLF troop leader Fox troop vehicle. His driver was Bombardier Bob Cochrane. This vehicle was an old British small truck [Bedford ] with no windshield just a piece of canvas that came up to their chins. Both Lt Ross and Cochrane were freezing cold and announced so loud and clear. I replied that I did not feel the cold at all and in fact was glad to get in the truck off the motorbike. My comments about not being cold had this from Alex Ross, “Sergeant major by the smell of your breath I can see why you do not feel the cold.” With Alex's warm words I just went to sleep. No use three of us watching the road. Next stop Cattolica.

The regiment arrived in Cattolica in the late evening and there was an advance party waiting to guide us where to park our guns and vehicles, also accommodation for the troops. The cooks were on the advance party so we were fed on arrival.

The 76th Battery was billeted in a jail. Any of the houses we were billeted in were without windows doors and no fuel for fire. But at least most were rain proof. Can you imagine arriving somewhere in a terrific snow storm and someone pointing out an old windowless, door less building and saying there it is! Canadians are pretty resourceful and we soon had scrounged tarps and stuff. If this was to be our home for a time we better get comfortable. I had an old first war veteran that used to say any so and so can be uncomfortable and miserable, but it takes a good soldier to overcome this adversity and be comfortable.

We soon had rubble shovelled out of a room or two, our fart sacks laid on the concrete floor, and candles lighted. Soon all you heard was the snoring of a crew out of range of any enemy guns and just the elements to combat. It took us a day or two to settle in. We had our sergeants' mess set up. It was our place away from all and the gunners glad of it as they did not have the sergeants breathing down their necks 24 hours a day.

One evening while in the sgts' mess, Sgt major Chuck Savin had a visitor from another unit, the 11th Fld Regt RCA. They were permanent force men attached to our unit and the 11th. During the conversation of Chuck and his friend they were discussing a Sgt Major called Windy Bill. Chuck's friend was going on about this Windy chap and stated that he was a scrounger supreme going into no mans' land to catch pigs, turkeys, cows, and what ever he could plunder. He also went on to say that this Windy had went too far forward to plunder and the City of Windsor Spit bombers mistook his truck for a German truck, machine gunning it and setting it on fire completely destroying the truck. Windy had to walk home. No charges laid. He then went on to say I think Windy's latest escapade has really done it. Chuck said how is that? Well Windy was up beyond the Cape Breton Highlanders and came under some mortar and machine gun fire. Not wanting to lose another truck and his load of chickens he tore down through Mezzano and crashed into a 1500 CWT truck from another outfit killing two or three fellow Canadians.

At this Orme and I now knew the SOB that killed our friends Floyd Burton and Gnr Cowan and nearly killed Gnr Spink. It was very upsetting to us and Chuck Savin saw our faces and knew how we felt. He took us to one side to console us. We all vowed that Windy, if we ever saw him, we would have a word or two to say to him. Strange in wartime. Floyd and Cowan were killed less than a mile from us on January 4, 1945 and we were not told what had happened or who was the driver of the other vehicle. Floyd had been transferred to 60 Battery and I suppose no one gave it a thought to tell anybody in our battery. Yes, I saw Windy at Harrod's staging camp in Leghorn, Italy a couple of weeks later but did not have an opportunity to talk to him. He was a giant of a man. He had been a motorcycle policeman in Toronto and had the look and the bearing of a bully and a loud mouth. He was not ever to be a friend of our regiment.

Sometime in early September we were on an advance party. As the battle was moving quite well it seemed we were always on the move. While on this advance party I was doing point duty when some tanks cut into the road in front of me. I missed the turn off to our gun position. Coming up to the next crossroad the medical chaps were loading a provost point man on to the jeep ambulance.

We were all stopped, and to our right within a couple hundred yards the Germans were shelling a group of buildings with increasing fury. The convoy I was stuck behind was some tanks and the dust and exhaust really burned my face. I pulled over until the tanks past. The next vehicles was some of the 8th Fld Regt RCA and laying in the back of one small truck was Cliff Gillespie who was now a Lt having received his commission while being an original 76th Bty Sergeant. Cliff was a chap who always liked to catch a sleep and here he was in the back of this truck and I swear he had at least a half inch of dust covering him. The next vehicle was one with two intelligence corps sergeants. I looked at their map and back tracked down the road and at the cross roads I had left moments before the medics were carrying another provost wounded out of the ditch.

The Germans sure knew where the crossroads were and laced in the high explosive shells. While I waited to pass this crossroads another shell or so smacked into the ground not far away. Carrying on I made the turn into our gun area. It was the area that I saw the shells just pouring into and the poor devils was our advance party. None hurt, but well dusted up.

Our guns came in and pits were dug and all fed. It gave me a moment to look around at the buildings that we were near. One building looked like it could have been a bank as there was hundreds of safety deposit type boxes that had been pried out and smashed open. I did not see any money but legal papers everywhere.

Our troop command post was just a hole dug in the ground big enough for the command post crew. In this case it was Lt Alex Ross and his assistant Don Bulloch, plus a signaller. The command post had a tarp put up over it to contain any light rather than rain protection as we had an extremely dry spell. I had dug my trench in an area about 50 or sixty feet straight behind the command post. Our gun tractors were in behind the buildings another hundred or so feet behind where I was.

All seemed well and as it was getting pretty late I had my pup tent up over my trench. I was a good sleeper and went on the premise that as soon as I went to sleep nothing would happen to me. I awoke from a sound sleep and had a great weight holding me down! What was this? It turned out that we had been rained on and my tent had collapsed on top of me and here was about six inches of water in my collapsed tent holding me down. I did not have a drop of water in or around my fart sack, but to get out and save my clothes and blankets was another matter, also I was naked. I knew I had to move soon or go down in the flood that was soon to engulf me I slithered up to the end of the trench then leaped into the rain and pulled my fart sack and clothes out in one motion. Now what? I scampered in the nude lugging my fart sack and clothes to the command post.

The entrance to the command post was really slippery so I slid bare assed into the command post landing at Lt Alex Ross's feet. I was now wide awake. I pulled a blanket over me and spent the rest of the night telling the command post stories of my youth. I'm sure they wished I would have shut up so they could have snatched a moment or so of rest. I think Alex Ross was the only troop officer we had at the time. The regular Gun position officer was away sick so Alex was the gun position officer & troop leader. When I slithered in to the dugout Alex Ross was writing to a girl back home and could not think what to write about, but with my entrance he had enough to finish the letter.

Italy, Cattolica. January 1945. We had just been a couple of days in Cattolica when one evening Sid Robertson said come along and said bring your cup. I answered where and why the cup? Sid replied you ask too many questions so I gathered up my cup and walked along with Sid to our battery headquarters house. When we entered this house here was Bombardier Mickey Lalonde and a couple of cronies with flushed faces and guilty looks and were trying to hide something. So Sid said where is it? The reply, where is what? Sid said the rum you dummy, the same as you have been drinking. The rum was brought forward, a whole gallon in the stone crock. Our cups were put forward and we were into the rum.

On a cold night a few gulps of this fine beverage did warm one, so after downing quite a bit. Sid without saying anything pushed me out the door. I wondered why? He pushed a gallon of rum in my arms. So here I am standing outside with a gallon of rum. Within moments Sid is out the door with another gallon. Down the road we go towards our house.

We stop to pour a cup of rum each. The old thresher type of handling this type of crock is to hook your finger in the stone ring at the top and swing the gallon jug up on your shoulder and pour from that level. This was an extremely icy road that Sid and I were standing on. Sid with the crock posed to pour and I holding out my cup. I reeled backwards and Sid came forward and vice versus all the time pouring a good amount of rum which hit the frozen road. Sid said Gordie, really serious like, do you think we have enough rum? I said of course there is only about fourteen of us in our house. Sid again said no there is not enough rum and I'm going back to get another gallon. His mind was made up so I carried the two gallons back to our house, gave the fellows a drink and I went to bed.

Sid returned with another gallon and the rest of the sergeants hit the rum full blast. Next morning there was some sorry looking fellows on parade. Sid and another sergeant, Lorne Gillespie, just could not make the morning roll call due to a so called sudden touch of something. Sid was quite a character, scrounger, a liberator of things whether tied down or not, older, wiser, and had nerves of steel. He had heard his youngest brother had been listed as missing in the air force. He said he should never been so hard on his kid brother making him work in the mines during his summer holiday to help cover school tuition. Sid went on blaming himself for all that had happened to his young brother. I tried to console him to no avail. Sid just had to let it all go. In one sense I guess I was the one chosen by Sid to listen to this and in a way I suppose in some way was made a special friend of this man. Incidentally Sid's young brother survived the war, and I'm sure we celebrated that news.

Cattolica, Italy. February 1945. It looked like our days in Italy were coming to a close. A special advance party was headed by Captain Charlie Brown, with WO2 Claire Kelley, and myself WO2 Gordie Bannerman, along with another officer and drivers. We were told we were the advance party for Exercise Goldflake. All unit markings were painted out. Canada badges were taken down. We were on our way across the Apennines from one side of Italy to the other and ending up at Livorno [ LEGHORN] and given a spot in a giant staging camp called Harrods. Now we knew we were leaving Italy, not another exercise to join up with the Fifth American army, but a different area altogether which we still did not know.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was quite near, but we were on strict orders that we had to be ready at any moment to get on board LCT’s [Landing Craft Tank]. I did not get to see the leaning tower of Pisa. It was February 16 that we boarded the LCT to sail where? As we were under way the destination was to be Marseilles, France. We would join up with the rest of the First Canadian Army in northwest Europe. As we sailed away from the shore of Italy it was with a sense of joy to leave on one hand a feeling of sorrow on the other hand as we were leaving old friends that would forever remain buried in Italy.

We were to miss out on completing the job of driving the Germans from Italy. Italy was home to us and had been since 1943. The Italian peasant had our respect and admiration. We were that ill equipped band of brothers that had beaten the best the enemy had put up against us. We thought of those we were leaving behind. Would we ever visit these shores again?

The LCT's were American crewed, white bread like cake, ice-cream, steaks and more goodies. Oh yes and Coca Cola, mashed real potatoes. We wished the voyage would last forever. It took about two days and we entered the harbor of Marseilles, threading our way through sunken ships and finally we were ordered pick up our gear, get in our trucks and start the drive up the Rhone valley, destination still not known.

There were a lot of things and battles still to be fought and here we were on French soil back to where my Dad had been in WW1. Quite a circle of life! Here on French soil my oldest brother George and I were here only some 26 years after Dad had seen the end of WW1.

France, February 1945. We are off on a new adventure. We disembarked at Marseilles and started the long drive up the Rhone valley. Along the route we were not supposed to throw out anything that would show we were Canadians. That was pretty hard to do as we were really proud to be Canadians. Also not to talk to civilians along the way, and if we did we were telling them we were English.

We were in France and there was a lot of pretty girls along the way, well dressed, and what stood out in my mind was the way they had dyed their hair, some purple, others green. The long drive from Marseilles, up through Lyon by passing Paris, and on into Belgium would have been 900 miles. I saw it all from the rear of a 1500 cwt truck? Not too inspiring a view, but I was gungho to see what I could see along the way.

Some wreckage from previous battles of WW2 and then there were the cemeteries of WW1. The ones that we saw were generally German cemeteries and in a run down state. Their type of markers were either leaning or in some cases had fallen over. We saw old pill boxes from WW1. All along the road side before we reached Belgium were piles of WW1 old ammunition that farmers had plowed up in their fields. Some of these large concrete fortifications were now used for farm storage and pig pens.

Points of interest on this route were really never considered as we were in a very strict controlled convoy. Our stops were in staging areas and here vehicles were fuelled, we had our meals and a tent to sleep in. All this was in a restricted mode and you were not allowed to leave these areas. You were fed breakfast and given rations per man for your noon meal, and your evening meal would be in another staging tent camp.

We came upon young forests that were only 27 years old. These forest were being harvested once again to supply the war. Where this forest stood had been 27 years ago a waste land of mud torn up ground and not a living thing. Here, after this period, nature had sprung to life and a new forest grew in this terrible landscape of so few years before. Now to be cut down revealing more concrete pill boxes that had been covered with the new growth.

In about five days we arrived in the small town of Wervik just over the border from France. Captain Brown went to see the town Mayor and allied authorities to get locations of houses and schools. All places that troops could be billeted in. The lists that Charlie Brown received were lists where the Germans had soldiers billeted. After bedding down in a warehouse and after a good night’s sleep Capt, Charlie Brown laid out the details of what each of us was to do.

My project was to find enough houses that had extra rooms for taking in our troops. Here it was very difficult to hide the fact we were Canadians. But we did even though the civilians knew we were not British. Our sun tanned faces gave us away that we had not wintered in Holland or along the Rhine. Actually we received a terrific welcome from these good folk, a memory of their friendship to last all our lives.

This was a good time away from the war. By day we went door to door asking the occupants in our stilted Flemish, or if we knew some French we carried on with whatever language came handy, if they had a room for the soldiers. It was just a matter of days that all the civilians knew we were looking for rooms. So our job was made easy with the town folk looking us up to volunteer their house or rooms. In the evenings we toured the bars and drank the mild Belgium beer. We met some folk when going door to door that spoke English. One lady, about 40 years old, said Canadians had been staying in their house in WW1. She knew we were Canadians even though we insisted we were not.

We must have been in Wervik for at least eight to ten days before the regiment arrived. Charlie Brown drove out to Cambria to meet the regiment and guide them into Wervik. Now here is where it was really exciting to the troops taking them to these beautiful kept homes with clean sheeted beds. In fact, the ladies of the house, when going to go up their stairs removed their slippers and went up in sock feet or bare footed. What luxury! Capt Charlie Brown had thought the warehouse was a good spot for the officers to have their mess and living quarters. It was not to be. Capt Les Hand 76th Battery captain wished to look where the men were to be billeted. On seeing the luxury the men had he immediately gave Capt Brown a bit of a talking down to. The upshot was the civilians were streaming into the street capturing a soldier or two for their place. The officers were taken into the homes too. I guess the relationship that we as an advance party had built up certainly helped and if we had known we could have said to the civilians when the troops get out of the vehicles each of you capture one or more as that would have saved Kelley and I hours of checking houses. It was a pleasant interlude never to be forgotten.

Belgium and Holland
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