Mr. Joseph Curtis, November, 2011.Joseph Curtis
"It was hell on earth. That was all I could see, the ground being tore up around us. Bullets passing by my face and in between the two of us, but I just kept walking."
See, Italy was house-to-house or town-to-town, and you had to take it one house at a time, that was the way it was. We [4th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery] went into action there. We posted [to Altamura, Italy]… that afternoon we got a new officer because they’d get killed off all the time. We had Lieutenant Doherty. He was a lovely man. We used to call him Mother Doherty. He was like an old hen looking after her chickens. He was so good to us. When we were going into action, he’d tell us what to expect. And by God, he’d always be right.
But he got killed, then the sergeant took over. So we got a new lieutenant in his place and he come right from Canada without any training whatsoever over there. And gee, he moved us to this place up next to a canal and put the tanks [M-10 Tank Destroyers] all together side by side up against a house. Me and a fellow by the name of "Scotty" Bell; Jimmy Bell was his name. He grew up in Glasgow, Scotland. He come over here to visit his sister who was in Canada and he joined our regiment. He was with us. And him and I went out on guard duty that night; and we were sitting on the side of the road; and by and by, we heard someone coming along. So we get up and hollered at them ̶ who was it, but a German.
So anyway, we took him and turned him over to the officer. I don’t know what he done with him after that, but I never seen him anymore. But after that, I went to bed; and I went in the first room next to the canal where the enemy was and there was stairs there, filled with stone, and the stairs were made out of stone. So I said, this is where I’ll sleep at, this is a good safe place. So I got in there and I went to sleep. At daylight, the first thing, I woke up, the end of the building come in, a bullet come through it, armour piercing. It went in one end of it and went out the other. I remember running for the tank across that road. I was looking at the walls, wondering if another one was going to come. But anyway, I got out to the tank. I got into her and none of the other fellows showed up. I couldn’t figure out why. But see, they were in the other room and all this stuff flying, they wounded an awful lot. They got wounded.
So anyway, I got in the tank, but I couldn’t drive, move the gun on her because of the wall of the house so close and the other tanks alongside of her. So I got out, and I got down behind her, where I was kind of safe. And I was there; and by and by, I see a fellow, Peter McEachern I think was his name. He was driving the lieutenant’s little army tank that he had for taking him around. He stood in the doorway and I could see the machine guns, the tracers hitting the wall above his head, spin him around and drop him to the ground. And I said to him, "Peter, for God’s sake, get in out of there before you’ll be shot." So he backed up and disappeared.
Then after a while, I seen the army tank, the lieutenant’s army tank, pulling out and taking off. It’s like, gee, I began to feel, my God, I’m alone here. So I went in the building, and this fellow was sitting on the floor with a blanket wrapped around him. His hair was all burned and his hands burned, his face burned, so I thought he was a fellow by the name of Peter Holloway. He was dark haired. So I said, "is that you, Peter?" And he said, "no, I’m George, this is George." George was a fellow from Ingonish [Nova Scotia]… where I lived; and him and I were good buddies. So I said, "George, my God, we’ve got to get out of here, boy, because we’re the only ones here. I said, do you think you can walk?" He said, "I’ll try it."
So anyway, I got him up. We started out and there was a tank burning beside the building, but we got by it. I had him by the arm and we started out. There was an open field, we started to cross it and when we hit the open field, they turned on us with the machine gun. And you would never believe what we walked through. It was hell on earth. That was all I could see, the ground being tore up around us. Bullets passing by my face and in between the two of us, but I just kept walking; and I remember, they were in front of my face like bees. I was leaning my head back and kept on walking. We got to the grapevines. We got to the grapevines and I got to a fence, there was a fence there. So I said, George, "there’s a fence here, you’ve got to get over it somehow." So he reached up and he pulled his eyes open. He said, "I’m all right, I can see now." So, by God, I got him over the fence and we kept going.
But we changed our course, so then they started dropping little mortars and trying to pick us off with the mortars. But anyway, I made the first aid post and when we got there, the lieutenant was there; and there was two jeeps with the stretchers in the back of them. So I took George in the house; and the lieutenant had a bottle of rum, and he was having a drinking out of it. I remember taking his bottle of rum and giving George a drink out of it. And then they put George into the stretcher and the last thing he said to me: "you tell them to call me back to the regiment." And I was saying to myself, I don’t think you’ll be coming back to the regiment anymore.
Interview date: 26 Novmeber 2010