Veteran Stories:
John Archibald Britten

Army

  • First Field Company, RCEME. Cittanova, Italy, 1943

    John Britten
  • Photo of John Britten he had later made into a postcard to send home. Photo taken in 1939 or 1940.

    John Britten
  • John Britten in the Regimental Fife and Drum Band. Mr. Britten is in the front row, third from the left.

    John Britten
  • John Britten (left) with friend Roland in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, while on leave from service in Italy.

    John Britten
  • Contemporary photo of John Britten (left) and friend Roland , many decades after serving together in Italy.

    John Britten
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"the Germans kind of repelled us a bit. They were tough customers; they were well-trained and everything."

Transcript

I was in the original landing party in the bottom of Italy. We landed there and it was, you might say, pitiful because they weren’t equipped. There was one man there sitting in a post, a machine gun post. He had a machine gun, but he was completely outnumbered. All of the Americans had the latest equipment; and they come in, they came ashore and when they got close enough onshore, they put off this charge. This charge lifted all this material up and turned it over, and it landed down on the right side. And that was part of the explosion, to get rid of their equipment. Then we went up through Italy. A couple of times, the Germans kind of repelled us a bit. They were tough customers; they were well-trained and everything. The Germans were playing a delaying part there. That was difficult. If you were chasing them, they would get a chance to get settled in and get ready, waiting for you. So that would make it kind of tough. If they were waiting, in other words, waiting for you. Over there, there was a lot of these, where they had the bricks built up, oh, about that high. You’ve seen these bricks; they have a name for it. And I was standing there looking up at Ortona. Ortona became I guess you’d call it infamous, I guess. I was looking over the top of this brick and looking around, being nosy I guess. And you could hear the old, I thought they were mosquitoes or something, you know, bugs flying around. It turned out to be a sniper. But he wasn’t a very good shot, thank goodness. He was firing all around me. It would be coming on both sides and then I said to myself, this is no place for me, I’d better get the hell out of here. So I moved away from it. But before that, they were firing at me from Ortona, the sniper was. Now, the object they claim of a sniper is not to kill the person, but to maim them. So he would be a problem for our side. That was their idea. Not so much to kill him, but to them out of a mission, or commission, so that we would have to take care of that person. That’s supposed to be the real reason, but I’m inclined to think that if they can, they’d kill them. In the engineers [Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers], well, our job was to sweep for mines. And then there was the German shoe mine [Schuh mine: fragmenting anti-personnel mine] that… There was one gentleman here who has both his legs off, and what happened to him was he tramped on shoe mines. They were kind of concealed in the ground and when you put the weight, your body weight on it, they’d blow up. And this would blow the bottoms of your feet off. You just have stumps left there. The shoe mine was very hard to detect because it was very small. And before you know it, you would have stepped on it. And that’s what would probably blow the stumps of your feet off. Oh yeah, we had the sweepers. We just moved them over, like that, over. When it would come over where a mine was, it would record, make a noise; and that would tell us that there was a mine there. But they were very hard to see, the shoe mine. That was, of course, why the Germans were using them. They were hard to locate.
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