He didn’t quite catch my words so I turned my shoulder with the Newfoundland patch on it. At once he said, I know your country very well and I give you a special blessing
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They [the Newfoundlanders] arrived in England, April 1940. We were the first draft from the west coast. We had moved into the Nissen huts that they had vacated and I spied some newspapers in the corner, old newspapers. I picked one up and the headline was, [British Foreign Secretary] “Anthony Eden welcomes the Newfoundlanders to the shores of Great Britain. If you have any complaints, let me know”.
We [the 166th (Newfoundland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery] did our part in the North African campaign and had moved on to take part in the Italian campaign. The Allies had landed in Europe on D-Day, June the 6th of 1944. And that invasion was going well. I was confident that the end of the war was very close. The Italian campaign was just about over and many Allied troops who had been away from home for four to five years were going home on leave. But there was no talk of home leave for the Newfoundlanders.
I remembered Anthony Eden’s words in that British newspaper. I wrote him. My letter was read in the House of Commons and two weeks later, we were granted home leave. It was my turn to go in April 1945. I was home on leave when the war in Europe ended on May the 8th, 1945.
During the Italian campaign, I was in Naples on a signal course. Rome was now occupied by the Allies. I heard that Rome was out of bounds to British troops. I thought perhaps I would never get to Rome, so I decided I was going to see Rome. While on the course, we had the weekend off, so I decided to hitchhike to Rome. Very few people knew then, and even now, anything about Newfoundland and where it was located. The word Newfoundland was on our right and left shoulders. I felt that I wouldn’t be noticed or stopped and such was the case.
Just before I set out for Rome, I met a British lorry driver - in England, they call a truck “lorry” - that was going to Rome. So he offered me a lift. We were not very far from Naples when in the distance I saw a civilian couple and two nuns standing by the side of the road. My mind told me that the civilians were probably going to Rome, waiting for a bus I guess. I told the lorry driver to stop and pick them up. He said he was not allowed to pick up civilians. I said, let me worry about that. I said, you will not be responsible.
We stopped and sure enough, the man and wife were going to Rome. We put them in the back of the truck and I got in with them. I pulled down the truck’s back curtain and we continued onto Rome. I told him I was going to see Rome. They were a Belgian couple and spoke good English. I told them we would have to drop them off at the outskirts of Rome. They said it was fine and they gave me their address in Rome and invited me to come to their home after my sightseeing tour of Rome.
As it started to get late in the day, I started to look for their house and found it very soon. It was a big house with an iron fence all around the grounds. The front gate had a bell which I rang and very shortly, the lady we had picked up arrived and we went into the house.
I remember this so well because during the evening, the news came on and Wendell Willke, who was running for the presidency of the United States [in 1940] died that night [October 8, 1944]. During the conversation that evening, Mr. Cuturi - that was the man’s name, C-U-T-U-R-I - Mr. Cuturi said the Pope was having an audience with the troops in the Vatican the next morning, would I care to go? I said yeah. He said, I will take you there, I won’t be able to come in but I will wait for you. Around 10:00 pm that evening, Mrs. Cuturi said, I will take you over to the Sisters. The Sisters were the nuns. So I slept that night in the convent.
Next morning, Mr. Cuturi took me to the Vatican. The ceremony began and the Pope, Pope Pius XII, was carried in on his chariot by some men high above the audience, up to the dais. After he speaks in several languages, he left the dais to do a roundabout. I was about the third from the front. He asked me where I was from, I replied, Newfoundland. He didn’t quite catch my words so I turned my shoulder with the Newfoundland patch on it. At once he said, I know your country very well and I give you a special blessing, for you, your family and your friends. Now you’re my friend, you’ve got the blessing of the Pope.