"One bad evening, we had five tanks knocked out and burned up. They called for volunteers to go take out the bodies."
Well, the first I remember is Sicily because Sicily for us [14th Canadian Armoured Regiment (Calgary Regiment)] was a, for my reserve, was kind of a holiday. We were the reserve battalion, we didn’t get too involved in the battle. But we ended up finding fresh fruit and vegetables and watermelons, stuff we couldn’t get in England. Then we had a sports day right there in Sicily; and we rounded up all the horses and mules, and donkeys, and had a little Calgary Stampede in Sicily.
Then we moved on and we led the way into Italy, the "A" and "B" squadrons, and we led the way into Italy. Then, you’ve heard the friendly fire, three days in a row they put in friendly fire from our own fighter aircraft, British and American. We took some casualties from there. That was our introduction to Italy.
We had rifle fire across our front. We stopped to investigate and a man came up in a blue uniform, he came walking over to the colonel and he saluted him again, talking to him in Italian. But he didn’t understand Italian, he only knew French and English. So he sent him over to me. Well, why me? I didn’t understand Italian either, so I turned and hollered, anybody here speak Italian? Well, we had a Corporal Perry whose parents were Italian; and he knew Italian. This man happened to be the colonel of an Italian rifle regiment deployed across our front. He just wanted to take his men and go home. So the corporal told him, tell your men, lay down your arms and start walking. So he went back to their line and they started filing out. Then one of these men broke ranks and he come over to me. He come over, he had to unhook a little chain from his neck and surprisingly, he spoke English. He said, this brought me through the war and maybe it’ll do the same to you. He hooked it around my neck and joined his buddies, and away he went. One of the nicer things, you know, that happened there. I’m not Catholic, but I wore it anyway because it had a significance to us.
At [Monte] Cassino was a major German defense line. Before we got there, there had been three major attempts to break that line; and they’d all failed. A lot of casualties to the Americans, to the British, to the Polish, to the Newfoundlanders, a lot of casualties on them, but they were going to try once again. Now, [General Bernard] Montgomery had gone back to England to get ready for the Normandy campaign, so [General Harold] Alexander took over; and we were going to try and break through. While Canadians were not initially expected to be in this battle, the 8th Indian [Infantry] Division (Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims), being aware of our brigade’s [1st Canadian Armoured Brigade] reputation, requested that we be allowed to support his troop in that action. So we found they’d were only going to put in two bridges, we felt it wasn’t enough and they challenged us to do something about it. So our engineer officer, making use of the Indian engineers, they built a Bailey bridge [portable pre-fabricated truss bridge], 100 feet long and you won’t find much about this in books, stuff like that. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a forgotten era, that bridge was 100 feet long. We pushed it across the river, drove the tanks across to the British line and broke the Gustav Line [German defensive line south of Rome] in there; and that was very much the forgotten issue for the Gustav Line.
Our job was to go through the enemy into no man’s land. We’ve got to find a path to lead the tanks down into battle. So the first night we goes in there, we get shot at by our own infantry and it took us over an hour to convince them we were friendly. The next night, because of our illustrious officer lighting matches, three times we got heavily shelled by the enemy and had to take cover on that there. The third night, they got a mistake made in the password and we almost got shot because of the mistake in the password. My own buddy almost shot me.
One bad evening, we had five tanks knocked out and burned up. They called for volunteers to go take out the bodies. That’s a horrible job. Closed the tanks, the tanks were hot, smelling of flesh, you pick up this, asked to take these bodies out and try identify, put them to the side. That is a horrible, horrible job and something that still bothers me because I don’t know whether it’s fantasy, or whether it’s truth. I recall going into the turret of the tank, lifting up a piece of metal and there was a body underneath there. To this day, I’m not sure whether I’m imagining that or whether it’s real, but at the same time, they burned. But that still does haunt me. But we had five tanks there, knocked out. There were nine or 11 bodies that we took out of there and put them in small grave, and marked them until the grave commission [Imperial War Graves Commission] could come up and take them. That’s a horrible memory.
It was D-Day up in Normandy and it was a couple days after that, that we got the title of being the "D-Day Dodgers" [derogatory term for Allied soldiers serving in Italy]. It was Lady [Nancy] Astor, [I] remember her in the British House of Parliament. She called us the "D-Day Dodgers," inferring that we’re having a nice, easy time of it down there in Italy, up in the battles. We were very annoyed, we were very angry, but then we thought it over and we figured what we’d done; because we had forced the Italian Army out of the war altogether and we were retaining almost a million German troops in Italy. If we hadn’t been there, those troops would have readily and quickly moved up on Northwest Europe. So we bear the name of D-Day Dodgers very proudly. We were D-Day Dodgers from Italy and were proud of it.