Veteran Stories:
Herbert “Herb” Pike

Army

  • Mr. Pike in uniform, 1942.

    Herbert Pike
  • Mr. Pike (2nd from the right) at Apeldoorn, Holland, in 1995.

    Herbert Pike
  • Mr. Pike with some of his company shortly after the Battle of Ortona, Italy, 1944.

    Herbert Pike
  • Mr. Pike in Belgium in 1945.

    Herbert Pike
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"And that is why even today, 65 years later, I just got back from Holland again. Those people, you’d think we had just left. They were very emotional. They are fantastic people."

Transcript

We moved down to south of London to a place called Aldershot, which was a reinforcement depot. Stayed there for not too long really and then the next thing I knew, I was on a ship called the [HMCS] Barrie as a matter of fact, heading for North Africa, heading for Philippeville [Algeria], crossing the Gibraltar. We were attacked as we went through the Gibraltar by torpedo carrying planes which came out of Spain. They got one of the ships next to us but we were fortunate, we managed to get into port. And I stayed in that reinforcement depot for, oh, at the most, maybe a month. And then we were transported over to Italy, wherein I joined the regiment [48th Highlanders of Canada] at that time.

This parachute division and other divisions came in and it was only prior to the Ortona deal, there was only the 1st Canadian [Infantry] Division. And then the 5th Canadian Division come down and joined us, just after the battle of Ortona to cross the Arielli River and they were an armoured division. And I must admit, they were pretty green troops and they got whacked pretty good. As a matter of fact, we spent time after they pulled out and come back, we spent many a night going out into the valley, picking up the dead and wounded and bringing them back. But they had an indoctrination that was pretty tough on them but became great, great troops and a great aid after that and they remained with us for the remainder of Italy until we pulled out of there.

We moved from there further, we kept close to the Adriatic side but just after that, we were told to pull all our patches down, our identification, the red patch and so on and all identification on our trucks. And we found ourself crossing all of Italy to what we called the Hitler Line, which was [the German defensive line near] Cassino, where the big abbey was. Which, nobody could seem to break the Hitler Line. And the 1st and 5th Division attacked in May of 1944. With good luck and help from the Almighty, we were able to break through the line and we pushed Jerry [the enemy] 90 miles in three days. He was fighting rear guard action and we fought him to within 90 miles of Rome, at which time we were told to halt. We had hoped we would have the opportunity to go in and take Rome. The reason we were told to halt was that General Mark Clark of the American Fifth Army had decided that he wanted the honour to take Rome. So we were held back and needless to say, we were, well, using kinder words, we were a little upset.

But he did go into Rome and he went into Rome on the fourth of June, which is just two days before D-Day. And when he got to Rome, Jerry had pulled out and Rome was declared an open city. And of course, at that time, there was no need for us to stay on the Tyrrhenian or the western coast, we moved back over to the Adriatic side. At which time we were now north of Rimini into all little towns and crossing rivers. Italy was a country full of rivers and usually at spring of the year, they’re at full flood and they’re difficult to cross. And we crossed rivers in nine-men canvas boats, you’d pull them up and pull up a wooden stay and nine men would get in. Unfortunately, accidents would happen, a fellow’s toe would go through the side of the canvas or a rifle butt would go through and we lost several boats in crossing in that way, unlike the cross-rivers in Northern Europe, which we did when we crossed in Holland, they were automatic boats. They were quite a change. We paddled across.

And we continued to fight there and the farthest we got was up to Ravenna and north of Ravenna, south of the Po River. And prior to that, the Italians had capitulated and changed sides and we were preparing now to move out of Italy. So we pulled back and the Italians took our positions and unfortunately, Jerry counterattacked and pushed them back. We had to go back into the line again and retake the territory we’d already taken. And once things had settled down, we had pulled out of the line and we found ourselves moving over to a place called Leghorn [Livorno], which was near Pisa, which is where the Leaning Tower is. And we boarded American LSTs, Landing Ship Tanks. And they transported us to Marseille in the south of France. And we went up into Apeldoorn, which at that time was about 40,000 people. And we liberated Apeldoorn and carried on about 17 miles north of that, which we were then relieved and we pulled back to Apeldoorn and I’ve got to tell you, Apeldoorn at that time was so relieved; those people were starving actually. We gave them as much as we could out of our own rations. And there was air drops fromthe aircraft, dropping supplies to them. They were actually down to the point where they were eating tulip bulbs.

And that is why even today, 65 years later, I just got back from Holland again. Those people, you’d think we had just left. They were very emotional. They are fantastic people. They never forget what the Canadian troops had done.

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