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Ortona Stalemate

Heroes Remember

Standing patrol, you go out there and you dig your little slit trench, four feet by three feet by six feet, and you go out there and you spend your two hours and you're listening for enemy patrols, see that they're not coming in. You're not doing the patrolling yourself, you're, just like it says, standing, you're standing in the slit trench just so that the enemy can't sneak up on you. Now, I don't know whether it affects everybody the same way, but I know it affects me this way. When you're standing out there until four o'clock in the morning just before dawn, it's cold, it's wet, you're miserable, you got to pee, and every little sound, you, you swear to God it's an enemy moving. You know, it might even just a rabbit or might be anything, but you swear to God that somebody's coming at you. So your nerves are right on, you know, just tense, and you're glad your two hour shift is over because you'd never go to sleep or anything. It's a nerve racking experience out there and I suppose that a lot of the guys feel the same way whether they admit it or not but you're out there, all by, well you, you'd be lucky, there might be another guy at the other end, four feet away from the slit trench, but sometimes at four o'clock in the morning you couldn't even see him it was so dark. Especially if there was no moon, if there was a moon, it was a different kettle of fish, and a different experience because the moonlight reflects off and anything moves you were damn sure it was something that wasn't supposed to be there. So that was mainly my experience of Ortona, except for one memorable night. The artillery, the Canadian artillery, were down in the valley below us, and they were, everyday they were allotted so many rounds of shells, and they'd let ‘em go over towards Germany. And the Germans had a big railway gun up in the mountains and you used to hear this thing coming, just like a freight train, the shells, and they'd only let maybe one, two, three a day go, cause they were rationed like we were, I guess, their supply lines. But they were mainly going after the artillery down in the valley, and we used to sit up on top of this hill in the daylight and watch these poor guys down here look like ants, with their guns down there, scurrying to get out of the way. You could hear these damn things coming just like freight trains, and we used to watch these poor guys scurrying down here to get out of the way because they knew they were coming towards them. But anyway, we converted up on top of the hill where we were, we'd converted a chicken coop, scrubbed it out and got rid of all the lice, and the shit, and one thing and another, and converted it into a sort of a shelter. And we parked the armoured car behind it, and like that's the front and this is the back here and the armoured car is back here, and we're laying in bed one night about eight o'clock at night, I guess, shooting the breeze, and we heard this damn freight train coming. And it didn't go down there, it kept on coming, and we heard it coming and coming, and there's about three of us on this side of the bed and about three of us on this, I was on this side. And I'm lying there, and this is as true as I'm sitting here, I watched the damn thing come through the top of the shed, go right across the top of the shed, out the other side, about three feet above my head, come right through and "thunk!", back out behind here. So we rush out to see what's going on, and our armoured car is sitting about six feet up in the air, it's wheels spinning on a great big pile of dirt, and what had happened the shell had gone right under the armoured car, disturbed all this dirt and shoved it up and failed to explode. And I watched it, you know just sit there, and that's what I remember about Ortona. Those two things I remember about Ortona. Interviewer: And of course if that shell was not a dud and had have exploded... Oh, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you. Interviewer: Exactly.

A stalemate at Ortona made reconnaissance unnecessary. But, two events that took place during the time around Ortona are still clearly recalled by Mr. Hyde. The first was the experience of a "standing patrol".

Gilbert John Hyde

Mr. Hyde's father was an electrician with the Moose Jaw Power Company and also a Veteran of the First World War. Mr. Hyde was an only child. He enlisted on 18 October 1938, two weeks after his 18th birthday with the PPCLI. Basic training was taken in Winnipeg before sailing from Halifax to Scotland in December 1939. On arrival, Mr. Hyde went directly to Aldershot in England where he spent several months in further training. Mr. Hyde then moved from being a military police officer to the job of dispatch rider - to a signaller assigned to a signals battalion with the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards. That was followed by a 3 ½ year stint on a Bren Gun carrier. The squadron was eventually posted to Scotland and eventually sailed for Sicily where Mr. Hyde participated in the landing there and went on to a number of battles in Italy before returning to Sicily, where his troop, the PLDG, received several awards, including a battle honour and a commendation from the Divisional Commander and the British 8th Army Commander.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Gilbert John Hyde
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards
Armoured Car Commander

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