Troopers of the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards in a Humber IV armoured car, Matrice, Italy, 27 October 1943. (L-R): Sergeant J.M. McAdie, Troopers John McMullen and John Cappo.
Credit: Capt. Alexander M. Stirton / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-137994.
"That was the end of a five month blood, oh God, that was a bloody, gruesome mess. And that was the last shots fired at Cassino. I heard that."
I took my full training in heavy armour. I was supposed to be in tanks and while I had planned on the Calgary Tanks [King’s Own Calgary Tanks Regiment], ending with the Calgary Tanks in England, but they were calling for volunteers to go out in the Mediterranean to reconnaissance which is armour also but later armour. A bunch of dough heads [simpletons] held their hand up and I held mine up with it, and that was it.
They just took us into Naples, dumped us off in Naples. The Canadians were over on the other side of the country and we eventually got to the regiment [4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards] too soon, too damn soon. And then the war went on, and took us with it. We worked our way up through Italy: Campobasso, the Sangro [River], up to the Moro [River], and Ortona. I spent the whole winter of 1943-44 within sight of Ortona and on the Winter Line. I spent 67 years there, that one short winter. [laughs]
In the spring, and that was late April, they pulled us off ‘Vino Ridge’ and we went back, had a nice little few weeks of a break. That was the first time we’d had a break in seven months, I think. And then moved into [Monte] Cassino and that was worse.
The gunfire tapered off and then it stopped. And our radio started crackling. I can still remember that. The Polish corps report, all positions secure, all resistance ended. That was the end of a five month blood, oh God, that was a bloody, gruesome mess. And that was the last shots fired at Cassino. I heard that.
And we were reconnaissance, we went ahead of the infantry. We couldn’t go anywhere; we were stuck in the middle of that pile of rubble that was Cassino. We couldn’t go any further because the Germans were still on the mountain looking down. But now we were free, and away we went. Tanks bulldozing their way through that rubble and we were 15 miles beyond Cassino that night on the edge of the Hitler Line, just on the edge of the Hitler Line. And the Canadians, I believe, lost some 3,000 casualties in the Hitler Line. I was one of the first. I was wounded that night.
I was dead. I don’t think I’d slept for 24 hours; and I just got back, and fell in a hole, right under a big tree. And that was one thing that you were always, that was always impressed on you, you don’t get under trees, don’t get anywhere near trees or any high object because incoming shells would hit them and explode in the air; and an airburst is considerably more dangerous than a ground explosion because it comes straight down. But I was too tired that night to give a damn, I just rolled into a ditch under this big tree. They say you never hear the one that gets you, but I heard this one. [laughs] I heard that gun pump up there, a couple, three miles away and a big old ‘coal-box’ [heavy shell] coming in. I knew it was headed right for my hip pocket and it hit the tree, and airburst right over my head. That was my ticket home. Came home on a stretcher. I never walked for three months; and I was a pretty sick boy for a while, but it went with the territory, just part of the game.
Interview date: 28 June 2010