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Memoirs of Gordie Bannerman

The Push to Rome

All of a sudden the regiment moved up to a concentration area preparing to hit the Gustav and Hitler Lines. On May 17, 1944, for our move into the Liri Valley we rode through the flat area before Cassino. The ground before Cassino was bomb cratered. These craters were full of stinking water. The road was cratered with trees and bushes torn up by shells and bombs. Many Allied tanks burnt out, tracks off, littered the whole landscape, plus all the litter of the three battles previously that had been fought in this area. Leaving the litter and that aside was the over powering smell of dead bodies. I have often said you could smell the death and decaying bodies miles before you ever were near Cassino. There were untold thousands of bodies in the ruins. The sight of the town was like looking at a pile of rubble moved by bomb and shell over and over.

As we swung past Cassino we could look up at the Abbey Monte Cassino. This Abbey dominated all the area, situated high up on the mountain. A view from it covered miles in all directions. I think the Abbey was taken over by the Polish troops on the 18th of May. This would help the First Canadian Division who were advancing along the valley below. We moved forward to the Pignataro area on the 19th or 20th of May and had our first firing position here. RHQ, usually thought always to be more in the rear of the guns, found itself about a couple of hundred feet to the left of my old troop, E troop. RHQ was in a house that was still in good condition and here is where the regiment was to make itself ready to support the First Canadian Division, or who ever needed our fire power. Right away there was an uneasy feeling that this could be a rough spot. Mount Cairo was to our right rear and was still held by the enemy. This mountain dominated all the valley and looked down on our backsides.

Cassino in May of 1944.

As we passed Cassino on our way to the gun position area, I should have mentioned that from Cassino to Pignataro, some of this journey was along Highway #6, then it branched off to the Pignataro road. This route took us across the battle field that had just happened the day before. Bodies of both sides were everywhere with burnt out tanks and vehicles, and abandoned enemy anti-tank guns that had been knocked out at the cross roads. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it had the stink of death. Along the lower level there was a smoke screen to try and hide movement along Hwy #6 and the rest of the valley. This was pretty useless and hindered the attacker more than the enemy when the wind shifted. The enemy was on a higher level than what the smoke reached.

Our guns were really dug in at Pignataro as our gunners knew we were being watched from the mountain to our right rear so gun pits and slit trenches were dug deep with lots of earth piled all around. About this time, while the gunners were digging in, along came the tanks of the BCD's who up to this time had not, except for the odd crew, ever seen a shot fired. A few troopers took it upon themselves to remind the gunners that they were ten mile snipers and were they digging to China. Our chaps said in return we know what shellfire does to the human body. The troopers thought they would save the work and did not dig.

About this time I was sitting under the back of the RHQ office truck reading a letter from Audrey Bakrud, a prairie girl. It was a hot May day so I was in the shade. The letter reading and daydreaming was broken with mortar shells landing to my left not too far away. When the next few shells landed and the splinters hit the side of the truck, I decided not to run for the house as I would likely get hit. I lay on my stomach with my left arm up shielding my head. A few more shells landed sending a few pieces whistling through the air. The next shell came in and it hit the front right wheel of the truck. I heard the great blast of the exploding shell and saw the dust and flash and finding myself up on my knees rather deafened, but able to move my head. I knew I must have been wounded, but was pretty numb. Then a trickle of blood ran down my left cheek. With that, I came alive and shot into the RHQ house coming in on an angle that Chuck Watson to this day wonders how I did it. Padre Fraser met me at the door and, in fact, I nearly ran him over. The Padre asked what happened. I replied too damn hot for me, but I did not lose the letter I was reading. Opening my hand the letter was a crumbled sweaty wet piece of paper.

Watson asked what happened? I told him they really hit his office. Our Medical Officer said, “Let me have a look at the cut on your face.” My reply was look after the Signal Corporal from our attached RCCS first as this young, quite hefty young man had his buttocks and legs full of a couple of hundred pieces of shrapnel. Doc Strashin said, “He is okay I will attend to you.” So he put a piece of tape on my left cheek bone. I suppose by attending my little wound first he was letting the morphine take effect on the corporal, or giving him a feeling he was not too bad off. This corporal had more than his share. A mortar shell exploded at the top edge of his slit trench. He had he been lying on his back, otherwise I'm sure he would have been killed.

While in the Pignataro area we watched the fires of burning houses, hay stacks aflame, and the flash of exploding shells. This was on the area of Highway #6 which ran alongside the mountains to our right flank. This battle was going on well to our right rear and we were getting observed, accurate fire from the Germans who controlled these hills. We wished that the 78th British Division would get the lead out and bring their front up to our level, or better yet get on with and increase the distance on our flank. There were smoke generators along Highway #6, but this did not mask the German observers higher up on the mountain. We had also been told that the Polish Corps had, through great bravery, taken the Abbey of Monte Cassino and the German Paratroopers had left that area on the 18th of May and had filtered down into the position before Aquino.

On the afternoon of May 21st there was a lot of shelling in and around our position. In RHQ house we heard the crashing of shells with some landing very near. After a terrific burst of shelling L/Sgt.. Applegren rushed into RHQ house in a very emotional state saying they are all dead, they are all killed. It took a moment to calm him down then we found out E troop had taken a lot of casualties. My old troop! I grabbed hold of a stretcher and told L/Sgt.. Sharpen, our Medical NCO, to grab the other end of the stretcher. Out the door we went on the run down the road towards E troop. All this time the shells were still coming in. As we came to E troop, the nearest spot was a scene of indescribable horror! Body parts were strewn about, and a smoking pile of someone was entangled in a camouflage netting that was a smouldering heap. I told Sharpen we can not do anything here so we kept going over to a figure that I knew was Sgt Sid Robertson.

Sid was kneeling over a person tying wire around the stumps of both leg and when we dropped down beside him, I whispered in a low voice, “One of ours?” Sid said, “Yes, Johnny Peltier.” Sid then rolled him over. I said, “Sid he is gone.” “Damn it Gordie he is not,” was Sid's reply. Just then a medical corp jeep ambulance drove up so we loaded Johnny on the ambulance. The ambulance picked up a couple more and departed. Johnny either was gone before we loaded him or passed away immediately after.

The shelling was still going on and seemed to move to our right and near the BCD tanks parked there. I could see burial parties would be needed as it would be a sad task for those left at the guns to pick up the pieces of their friends and dig graves. I went back to RHQ house gathered up a few fellows. We had shovels and picks and went to the rear of E troop some couple hundred feet. Here we came upon some German trenches that were deep and all we did was extend the length. Again while doing this the guns were getting shelled with a few of the shells bursting beyond us. Pretty soon E troop gunners came along carrying their dead which we buried in the graves that we had prepared. Our Padre Fraser came out and said a few words in a quiet well meant manner with the dignity that under the circumstance was all you could do.

May 21, 1944 was a long day to all personnel. We were to lose a lot of men, killed and wounded. One of these was Cpl Bragg, E troop cook, who was a brave man and lost his life at the age of 27 this day. When preparing meals he was struck with a shell exploding near his work area. How Bragg was working in such an exposed area we will never know. First of all he had a duty and could not just up and leave when the shells came in. He used a type of burner that roared away drowning out any other noise. I mentioned that the BCD troopers when they came up in their tanks were not too kind in their remarks to our gunners. The usual ten mile sniper stuff and digging holes like gophers. Here is the sad part. When E troop took this shelling and Johnny Peltier was killed and both legs blown off, one of Johnny's legs flew through the air hitting a BCD tank. These new troopers saw what a shell could do to the human body and needed no ordering to dig well and deep then drive their tank over the trench for the extra protection. Johnny, in his passing, may have saved other lives as they went into battle.

This is the Cassino War Cemetery as taken in 1999. It shows the graves of soldiers from the Commonwealth that lost their lives during the battle for Cassino and the Hitler Line on the advance to Rome. The Abbey of Monte Cassino has been rebuilt and looks down on all the surrounding countryside.

The next day, May 22nd, had E troop getting another shelling. This time killing Jock Warner and wounding a few more. Colonel Armstrong decided to move E troop to the left of RHQ as the position they were in was becoming too dangerous and being a cross road with tanks and other transport moving through drew a lot of shell fire. The spare personnel from RHQ helped the crews of E troop dig new gun pits and when the new pits were completed E troop went out of action, brought up their gun tractors, moved in a matter of minutes and started to fire as targets were called on to be engaged. After this move I went along the road to visit with my old troop. As I was talking to Sgt Bill Stickney and crew, fire orders came in so action stations and the crew commenced firing. Bill said, “Gordie, we do not need any help so move over to one side.” I did this and as Bill was standing up giving fire orders the German guns started to fire in response. The next thing was exploding shells hitting the parapet and raining clods of earth down on Bill and his crew and myself. Bill's crew or any of the other guns in the troop never went to ground, but fired every shell as ordered. A great display of discipline under a very trying moment.

Soon the shelling stopped and I wandered back to RHQ house. Colonel Armstrong was pacing back and forth muttering we have to get a way to move up closer to get a better shot at the enemy and help our chaps with closer support. I told Colonel I had just been at the guns and what a display of courage they had exhibited and I'm sure they would appreciate a visit from him to tell them so. Without a word, out the door he went and started to walk towards the guns. Again the German guns opened up. Sgt Bill Stickney told me later of the Colonel's visit saying, “Gordie keep the Colonel in RHQ because he came toward us he was swinging his horse tail switch pointing out what a poor gunner the Germans were as each shot fell.” Stickney said they had to stand and talk to the Colonel when the shells were falling, and that so and so never ducked or went to cover. I thought I did the right thing, but I could not win them all!

The Hitler Line May 23, 1944. Our guns and all available artillery fired a large barrage to assist the First Canadian Division in breaching the Hitler Line. Almost continual orders came down to fire a William Target, a first in the history of the Royal Artillery. Some 19 field regiments, nine medium regiments, two super heavy regiments and, I believe, two heavy anti air craft regiments, to fire scale ten. The target area was around the right flank of the first division and was to snuff out an enemy counterattack forming up in and around Aquino railway station. Our war diary states it was 74 tons of shells hitting this area in less than a minute. The air observation officer stated that there was not much movement after this bombardment.

Aquino was a thorn in the side of our attacking forces as the enemy were in this area to the right rear flank of First Division. The British 78th Division were so damn slow coming down Highway #6 and were asked by General Burns to mask Aquino. But neither Gen Burns or Gen Leese 8th Army commander were strong enough in their language to the 78th and they were not about to get any more casualties than necessary, so they left the Canadians out to dry.

The breaching of the Hitler Line was carried out by the First Canadian Division who certainly lost a tremendous amount of men. Our role was coming to a close this day and our Colonel wanted to get advance parties out to select new gun positions ahead to take advantage of any move of the enemy to the rear. Traffic was horrendous as everyone tried to get forward. It was so bad in fact that ambulances coming to the rear hospitals and dressing stations could not get through, causing more loss of life of those already wounded.

The Germans though, having the Hitler Line breached, emptied their guns before moving as the odd shell came screeching through. One such shell, the RSM and Sea Biscuit Clark a DR, and I saw it hit a stone wall about fifty feet away before we could think where in hell did that one come from. A screeching whistle went between us. That was the shell that hit the wall a split second before. It was an 88mm with a muzzle velocity of some 3300 feet per seconds. Three times faster than sound so there was no use of us ducking after we heard the screech as it had already gone by.

It took our guns from 20:00 hours to travel four miles and arrive through Pontecorvo at 12:00 hours of the 25th of May. When we did arrive we were out of range so had to move again. This time not far from the Melfa River.

The regiment was finally able to clear the terrible traffic jam of vehicles both going to the front lines and back from the front. Traffic control seemed to have vanished and chaos taken over. Finally the Regimental Headquarters that I was a part of rolled along through the area of the great battle of a couple of days ago, dead Canadians and Germans were still lying in the ditches and some all mixed up together.

Soon we came to the main Hitler Line. I counted ten or twelve. Churchill tanks knocked out by one 88mm gun well hidden in a pile of rubble. The tanks were all in a semicircle and in the centre was the gun that did them in. Sometimes this gun was just blasted over, but on one occasion a little further down the road, the 88mm gun was blown straight up in the air. Its long barrel not doing any more damage and pointing at the sky. Here we saw all the vegetation had been cleared down so not a blade of grass dared raise its head. A killing ground and that is what it was! Dugouts and weapon pits all around! The defenders shot and killed our infantry men from the first Canadian Division. How our boys were able to get through this killing ground was a heroic feat.

This is a copy of the work of war artist Charles Comfort from an old Liberty Magazine of Gordie Bannerman.

Going a little further we entered the outskirts of the town of Pontecorvo which was a pretty beat up place. Going through Pontecorvo we stopped for the rest of the day. Here a couple of young Seaforth Highlanders wondered had we seen any more of their friends. They could only find 23 of C Company. They were a couple of pretty beat up young fellows!

The Churchill tanks that were knocked out all over the area were British tanks from the North Irish Horse. They were under-gunned, but manned with exceedingly brave fellows. I found a beautiful Beretta sub machine gun. It did not have a magazine. I gave it to Bob Anderson who fashioned a magazine from a Schmeiser mag. This Beretta was carried up into Holland.

That night we were in a field and could not go any further. I had noticed a scab on my left arm and being a picker I picked at it and found that when I had been hit under the truck a few days before I had also been hit in the arm. There was a small piece of shell in my arm which I flipped out. The next day while digging a slit trench I noticed a scab on my left side and on examining it I found another piece of a mortar shell embedded in my side. I asked our Medical Officer to have a look. He came over and with his nail file flipped the piece of shell out of my side. Capt Strashin survived the war and went on to owning and operating one of the largest medical clinics in Toronto. A wonderful compassionate fellow.

May 24, 1944 at Melfa River. This date is likely to be remembered forever in the minds of the Westminster Regiment and the Lord Strathconas. It was at the Melfa where Lt Perkins from the Lord Strathconas and Major Mahony from the Westies made such a gallant stand and swung the tide of battle in our favour. Fred West was a carrier Sergeant with Major Mahony at the Melfa. How these few were able to hold the bridgehead across the Melfa is something that will never be known! The individual acts of bravery, which were many, are not recorded in any history books, but remain in the hearts and minds of those few that were there.

Major Mahony was the officer in charge of B wing at the Fifth Division assault course that I attended in December of 1942. At the Melfa, Major Mahony rose to great heights and through his leadership held the bridgehead under extreme conditions thus enabling the advance to continue. For his devotion to duty and heroics Major Mahony was awarded the Victoria Cross and was decorated by King George V1 on July 31st. Lt Perkins from the Lord Strathconas was decorated with the DSO.

We seemed to be moving forward through a lot of traffic and it seemed you spent a lot of time driving a few miles. But in one position not far from the Melfa we were in a field with a few burned out tanks scattered about or bogged down in soft ground. A trooper wandered through our area. I went to speak to him and his answer was to be left alone. He walked a few feet past me and collapsed on the ground. I, along with the padre, was able to get him on his feet and the RSM gave him a shot of issue rum. This trooper said he was the only survivor of a BCD tank that had been hit by an 88mm and burned. Just then along came a BCD officer with three other troopers. The officer stopped to talk to us and we gave them a shot of rum also. This officer told us that he and each of the troopers with him were lone survivors of four tanks. The first trooper came from a different Squadron. The officer, on finding out that he was a tank driver finished the rum and said, “Now I have a full crew of survivors. Let us get that tank out of the soft spot and return to the battle.” Which they did.

Major Mahony.

Just before this we had BCD's around our gun position and then on early in their first action C squadron BCD's lost seven tanks to one sp gun. The tanks were caught in a sunken road and the German gunner shot the last tank in the road then in a matter of moments with six or seven more shots brewed up the rest of the tanks. There were only two fatalities and a few wounded, which in itself was remarkable.

Somewhere during this advance the German engineers blew great craters in the roads. Coming up to one of these massive craters, there laying in a number of pieces, was a small bulldozer. I knew the Canadian Engineer sergeant that was directing the repairs. He was the fun loving big Irishman who hit our fellows on the back of the head at dance in Petawawa in 1941. I asked him what had happened he said the bulldozer started to fill the crater and made one pass when it hit a bomb that the Germans had buried in the bottom of the crater. I asked if the bulldozer operator was killed and he said no, just blown about twenty feet into the air. He was bruised and battered, but would be back in action in a few days.

That night the German aircraft came over and bombed a Royal Canadian Engineer unit. The bombing came as next to the Engineers a British unit moved in and had to brew up their tea using gasoline in dirt filled cans as a stove. All these fires were what had attracted the bombing. The engineers lost a number killed and quite a few vehicles destroyed, all the result of the careless attitude of the British unit brewing up their tea and lighting up the area. I slept through the bombing and the parachute flares that were drifting down with all the rifles and Bren guns firing at the chutes thinking they were paratroopers floating down.

The advance up the Liri Valley was very fast moving with guns being rushed up because the infantry and tanks were calling for help. When the move was critical, the roads were so congested that we were out of range by the time we arrived. So where possible it was fire and move. Soon we were in the Pofi area and the First Canadian Division moved through taking over from 11th Brigade. Being in Regimental Headquarters, I do not think that I was ever past Pofi. But our guns were still in action until the fall of the town of Frosinone.

The Canadian Corps did not stay in action in this area too much longer. The Germans were in full retreat, so politics entered the picture. The South African Armoured division took over the chase. Also the British 78th Division and the British 6th Armoured Division who, in our thoughts, were taking their own sweet time coming up on our right flank. The glory of on to Rome looked like a fine thing and the Canadians, as valiant as they had fought, were not going to get a run to Rome.

From May 28 - June 7 we stayed on the outskirts of Pofi. It was in this area that the First Canadian Division passed through our brigade and kept up the attack on the retreating Germans. It was a terrific day and we were waving to the artillery regiment rolling past. The scene was broken with a few terrific airbursts above the road that the regiment were travelling. In a space of a few seconds a gun tractor was hit and went up in flames sending great billowing smoke skyward. This smoke cloud brought more incoming shells. The gun tractor had gasoline in jerry cans along with their netting on the roof of the tractor. The exploding airburst punctured the gas cans and also punctured the cab of the tractor. The gas ran down across the gun crew in the tractor and exploded killing the crew of five or six. No immediate help could have saved them. It all seemed so unreal as here we were standing along waving and cheering them on and in a split second their lives were lost.

Either later this day or the next we had a screaming group of women and children running into our area from a group of farm buildings about a quarter a mile away to our left. They were so excited and terror stricken that we at first could not make much sense of what they were trying to tell us. They were hollering about someone returning and, also we made out, it was very bad what ever that was. Al Tumino was an italian speaking chap in RHQ and he found out that black men had returned, shot a grandfather and all raped a young girl. Now it took us a moment to digest who these blacks were. The French Moroccan troops had gone through this area when the main attack was going on. Bill Lloyd a WO2 from another battery, Al, and I went with this group of tearful people to a farm house not far away.

There was an old man shot and bayonetted on the ground and he certainly was well done in and was dead. There was a weeping young girl with the earmarks of being roughly handled. We now find out there were 18 Goums, French Moroccan soldiers, that had raped and killed. Bill Lloyd said, “Gordie we must go after them.” I was unarmed and said so, and what are we going to use to bring them in? Well Bill slapped his 38 pistol and said with this! My reply was the hell with it. Bill said what if it was your sister? Again I said to Bill these Goums are on our side. There must be more to this story than meets the eye. I calmed Bill down and he agreed that we could not take on the Free French Corps and he would report this to the town major, and we left the scene.

The next day the same group came back into our area screaming that the blacks had returned. By the time we went to the farm they were gone. We talked the group into moving into Pofi to be safe, which they did. The true story came out that the old grandfather was a Fascist and had told the attacking Goums earlier in the advance that there were no Germans on his property, but grandfather lied and the Germans, hiding behind a stone wall, opened fire killing some of the Goums. The Goums remembered and came back and revenged the death of their comrades.

A sort of bizarre happening took place sometime around May 29, 1944. It happened in an area where Lt Jack Dowling was wounded rather badly, taking a tremendous amount of shell splinters in his back and neck from an air burst. While we were in this area a nun came over to RHQ and through Al Tumino we were able to ascertain that an Italian civilian had been killed by shell fire a day or so before. The nun was requesting transportation for the body and the family to be taken to a village church and cemetery for service and burial.

The adjutant was said we could not comply with the nun's request, so I was relegated to look after this affair. Chuck Watson and I seemed to have a nose for the odd and the unexpected so Chuck, the nun, Al Tumino, and possibly Stu Goldstone or John Wiebe from the survey section, went across the road to a farmhouse. When we arrived at the house we had no trouble finding what room the body was in. We followed the flies as this poor chap had been killed a few days before and the weather was hot. He was surrounded with a dozen or so weeping and wailing family.

I decided the best thing we could do was bury him right away. We went outside for air as things were pretty high. Outside we found some German weapon pits that could be extended for a grave. Al spoke to the nun who said her rosary over the grave. We found a door and slid him on to it and covered him with a blanket, which none of the family wished to part with. We carried him out. I asked Al to have everyone move back into the house. On the count of three we rolled him into the grave saving the blanket. We called the nun who said a prayer, then shovelled the dirt in. Such was a burial under rather different times.

During the advance through the Liri Valley we came upon an area where the Germans had a great number of weapon pits and it looked like Stan and the Perths had been through here. It was definitely where a good fight had occurred. Lots of machine gun ammunition, a fine pair of Zeiss optical or I should say, the remains of periscope, as dead center a Canadian infantry sniper had shot a hole right through them. What a prize, but now worthless.

Amongst the other odds and ends were a number of German gas masks. If you found their gas masks you knew they were really retreating in a hurry. The German never discarded his gas mask until the last moment of retreat. The only other item he kept was his greatcoat coat, regardless of weather.

Looking around I came upon some food in a trench, a dozen cans of King Oscar sardines, Fabrik Norge, a box of cheese, and two large twenty pound boxes of a hard jam. One box of jam had been opened and the hornets were coming in and chewing off pieces of jam and flying away with it. I called the rest of my buddies with me to see this find. I opened a can of King Oscar's finest and ate all of the can. Then I reached in a pocket, found a hard tack biscuit and scooped up some of the hard jam to put on the biscuit. Some said not to eat it as it will likely be poisoned. I replied if it were poisoned all the hornets would be dead. I did not mention that I had scraped some dead hornets off the jam, but I thought their death was from overeating. All the sardines and about thirty pounds of jam were all eaten in the next day or so. We were thinking at the time that the Norwegians were playing the fiddle on both sides supplying food to the Germans in specially marked cans. I suppose they did not have much choice to supply or not supply. On June 4, 1944, Rome fell to the allies. It was the first axis capital to fall to the allies in WW2. We of the Canadian Corps had been taken out of action and missed the grand finale in the capture of Rome. It was a bitter pill to swallow. The Canadians had suffered so much in the Liri Valley and were denied the finish. Politics and egos played a large part in this decision. The ego of General Mark Clark and a lot of other happenings that we as ordinary soldiers would never know about. The South African Armoured Division was brought in on the final run up the highway to Rome. Politics again. The only Canadians to enter Rome as part of the victors were the Special Service Force, a mixture of American and Canadians.

Oh well, that is how it went. We had to lick our wounds, regroup, refit and welcome the wounded back from the hospital. Then we had to assign new replacements to take the place of our buddies that were killed or wounded. In early June we attended a memorial service with General Hoffmeister to pay homage to our comrades that were no longer with us. Johnny Pelitier, Peter [Bubbles] Wunder, plus all the rest that lost their lives, we survivors have never forgotten them.

Rome had fallen, so naturally, we as the Canadian Corps thought we would get leave to Rome. No, was the answer to that. Rome was out of bounds to all except the American Fifth Amy. While we sulked like spoiled kids over not getting to Rome we had the good fortune to have a visit from the Number One Canadian Entertainment Company. This entertainment group was made up of Canadian men and women that toured, entertaining the troops. The girls in the troupe were telling us that when they came up the Liri Valley to our area that a lot of them were sick with the sights and smell of the aftermath of war. Bodies of both sides were still in the ditches, and of course the terrible smell of death and decaying bodies was in the rubble of Cassino. That would get to the most hardened of all. But when it was show time did they ever perform. They were a touch with home. WE LOVED THEM.

June 1944 was a time to regroup and retrain. The higher command felt that the Canadians had not been as well coordinated in many aspects of the battle up the Liri Valley. Some of the infantry Colonels were relieved of command for not pressing the attack and for losing contact with the enemy. It may have been true, but the courage and actual taking of the objectives was always of the highest order. Much has been written since we Canadians came under scathing scrutiny by the Eighth Army brass about failure in traffic control and the failure to pass on all the paper work doing the hard fought battle. This was in effect covering the brass’s hind ends for their failure and egos in running the battle as it progressed.

The Canadians advanced up the Liri Valley across country with only secondary roads and tracks. The British on our right flank operated along the hills, but had Highway # 6 as a tremendous road to advance along. A damn poor job they did in protecting our flank. The French on our left, sort of taken lightly by the Eighth Army, did an excellent job.

General Juin of the free French advanced in the hills and was farther ahead of us on our left flank. General Juin had tried to tell the British and Americans that why keep hitting Cassino from the front and lose thousands of men. Bypass Cassino and strike all along the hills to the left. Coming from a Frenchman it was not given much credence. After about four bloody attempts at the frontal assault before victory it was thought maybe that Juin was right, but the bull heads would never coincide that!

It did not then hit home to most of us that we were like the Poles, being used. It was just as well, as we were young and the will to survive was likely the uppermost thought in mind. During the month of June we moved twice and ended up in an area near the Volturno River. The guns were taken out and re-calibrated. We did a fire and movement type of training with the infantry following close behind our barrage. General Hoffmeister walking along with the Brigades infantry to show the infantry how close you could safely follow a barrage. A great officer, a great man.

For recreation we went to a beach called Mondragone. We prairie chaps swam for the first time in the sea. The salty water was new to we fresh water swimmers. The hot Italian sun and the salt water gave a lot of us fair skinned fellows pretty good sunburns. At the beach we were entertained by the First Canadian Entertainment company who put on a great show. We were restricted in areas that had been cleared of mines laid by the Germans. There were still a lot of trip wire flares that were set off at night by the engineers. These flares were to light up a sea borne landing and again had been left by the Germans.

In May and June we lost two fellows. Gunner H. F. Denton drowned in the river and his body never recovered. Denton's name is engraved on one of the 12 large memorials listing those with no known grave in the Cassino War Cemetery. Gunner E. W. Jones drowned and is buried up the coast closer to Anzio. I do not know who recovered his body. E. W. Jones died June 29, 1944.

Finally were not far from Capua. The other units of the division were near Caserta. As we left the Pofi area a couple of Lance sergeants missed the move and were marked absent by Battery Sergeant Major Lloyd of 37th Battery. When these chaps returned and were paraded before the colonel to be punished they said that Bill Lloyd had given them permission to go to the nearby farm houses for vino and that is why they missed the order to join their unit and move out of the area. The 37th Battery had quite a few chaps that did not like the Sgt major and thought they saw a chance to have him court-martialed. It all got fairly intense with Bill Lloyd, the Sgt Major, refusing the battery commander's punishment and then refusing the colonel's punishment. Bill Lloyd then requested to be paraded in front of the brigadier who would be able to handle this.

Cassino Memorial.

What had started out to get Bill Lloyd was turning into a real embarrassing situation. Both Major Gilchrist and Colonel Armstrong wanted it all to go away. The two real culprits were the trouble makers and I do not know if they eventually escaped punishment or not. In our first rest area from Pofi it was a dry camp, no booze, no unauthorized vehicles leaving the area. Somehow the officers had a truck go out and buy up a lot of booze and had a great party. This annoyed the gunners and one Bdr. Fleming complained to Sgt major Pollock of 76th. Roy Pollock, great chap he was, went to the battery captain Les Hand about this. Captain Hand told Major Lagimodiere who was officer commanding 76th Bty. Major Lagimodiere did not like it being pointed out that he, along with the other officers, had broken the rules. He was furious and berated Sgt Major Roy Pollock to have the affront to question what the officers did. The two Majors, Gilchrist and Lagimodiere, plus Colonel Armstrong took this opportunity to get the Bill Lloyd affair settled. They transferred Roy Pollock, the father figure to all the 76th Bty Gunners, to 37th Bty, and Bill Lloyd to 76th Bty. A crapping way to end the embarrassing situation first caused by two irresponsible Lance Sgt’s, then a complaint from a bombardier who loved his booze. Sgt Major Lloyd had a very trying time until it all, so called, was settled.

I wrote a letter to the Swift Current Sun, a Saskatchewan city newspaper. This letter was from somewhere in Italy dated July, 6 1944. My mother, who was a Sun subscriber, saved the clipping gave it to me when I returned from overseas. The letter outlined my trip to Rome, first of July 1944.

We left our rest area and drove from Capua to Rome in the back of lorries, a distance of just over a hundred miles. It did not seem a long trip as we were driving through the area we had fought over not too many weeks before. This time no one was shooting at us and we travelled along Hwy #6 over bridges built and maintained by the army engineers. The debris of war had not been cleaned up. Burnt out tanks and vehicles still littered the countryside. The Italian peasant was hard at work filling in gun pits, slit trenches, and shell holes. We had to admire the tenacity of these hard working souls. The saddest part of making this trip to Rome was that so many temporary cemeteries were scattered along the route. Contained in those cemeteries were our comrades that had fought so hard and bravely and who would never get to Rome. That was the only sad part of this trip.

Entering Rome, we were amazed that the war had seemingly by-passed the city with only a few bomb or shell craters on the out skirts. The first thing we saw from the back of the moving lorries was the sight of the most gorgeous signorinas. The waves and cheers echoed along our route as we were all in an upbeat frame of mind. Rome here we come. Everyone was thinking that Rome was blessed with beautiful girls, but would we meet any? Right away our three days looked like too short a time even as we drove into the city.

I do not remember where the army billeted us on these three days. No matter, we were in the great city of Rome and I for one had my mind made up to see the sights, especially the Vatican and the Coliseum. Three of us hired a horse drawn taxi to take us around. Sgt Alex Ross was one of the three in our horse drawn carriage. I maintained let us see the Vatican first as we may never have a chance ever to see it again. Alex, he saw the Vatican, but was killed on September 13, 1944 [my 23rd birthday].

Rome had tens of thousands of Americans touring the streets in jeeps loaded with beautiful girls. These Yanks were in summer dress as we were, only they wore slacks while we were wearing shorts and short sleeved bush shirts. The fighting Yank wore his battle dress long sleeves and collar buttoned up. These chaps had an infantry badge on their left breast that showed they were combat types. The jeep riders were base types and these base types would stop a GI in his battle dress and correct him and give him hell for his collar being unbuttoned - real smart ass guys, then get back in the jeep and think it was a big joke taking a fighting man to task. There were two types of Yanks, the smart assed base type, and the good fighting GI.

On to the Vatican. What a sight! Famous statues, paintings and marble everywhere, and thousands of servicemen from all the allies plus the civilian population sightseeing the Vatican. This was truly an awe inspiring sight for this farm boy. We had found out that you could climb a set of stairs up to the brass ball atop the Dome of St. Peters. We had a go and started the climb. It was a blistering hot day and when we reached the ball we found there were people already in it. The Ball, looking small from the ground, was likely at least ten feet in diameter with walls of brass at least five inches thick. Talk about being in a steam pressure cooker! We soon were drenched in perspiration.

Fox Troop gunners from the troop signal section. Left to right: Donald Bulloch seated at front of the Carriage, next Vic Bennett and to the far right Fred Lockhart.

What made up for this steam bath was the view all over Rome and across the Tiber River. Following a guide, we entered a chamber where Pope Pius the Tenth was on display. He had been dead for thirty years and we were told the custom was to bring the mummified body out on display. Crowds were handing their rosaries to five or six priests to have the rosaries touched to the mummy's hands, blessed and returned. I had bought three rosaries and gave them to Lucienne Le Marellec, Dorothy Brister and Marie Bedard when I returned from overseas.

Our two or three days in Rome were altogether too short. It was amazing to think that this part of Italy was not shelled and bombed, but had been declared an open city to save it. I think the way the people were dressed was like out of a fashion page compared to the farm folk that we had become accustomed to. I could not get over the splendour of the Vatican, a display of wealth and architecture. To a farm boy this was indeed quite a place. Also there were centuries of history here and we trod in the footsteps of the Caesars.

Gordie Bannerman on the steps of St. Peters July 1, 1944 with two lovely Italian girls.

This was a very hot July and many spent time swimming in the Volturno River. Schemes and training still was kept up, trying to learn the mistakes of the Liri Valley battle. Exercises were conducted to train personnel in traffic control. Here the British 8th Army brass were not too kind to us, as they were endeavouring to cover their backsides over mistakes they had made. No Canadian or other Allied officer was, in the British minds, as good as they. Our General Hoffmeister was head and shoulders above them all as was the Free French General Juin. It was a lot of politics and we really did not comprehend most of the crap that floated by. Lucky we did not or we would have likely come home. Fat chance of that! We were proud of all the Canadians had accomplished and felt we had done our share.

Regroup and Retrain
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