"[...] and a lot of the time was spent in building bridges over the rivers because there’s so many rivers coming down from the mountains into the Adriatic. And the Germans of course would blow them all up."
My name is William James Millhausen and I was born on the 10th of January, 1918 in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. Well, we sailed south and then across through Gibraltar towards Sicily. And one night, we got strafed by a German aircraft and they hit one ship, which didn’t go down but it limped into Phillipeville [now the Algerian city of Skikda] and it had a hospital unit on it which they lost all their equipment.
So we landed in Sicily [in the context of the Allied landing during summer of 1943] and we were taking our billets were up Taormina, which was on the top of the mountain. Very nice spot. And we were there, well, for a couple of weeks and then a group of us were sent up to join the Eighth Army [a British Army formation composed of British units and units from various countries of the British Empire, the Commonwealth and other countries who fought in North Africa, in Sicily and in Italy] and have a taste of what it was like. So we drove up there and we would [be] about a third of the way up Italy I guess at the time. And I was attached to the chief engineer’s office all the time I was up there. And then we came back to Sicily and then the whole corps of troops moved up. And from then on, we were an integral part of the Eighth Army.
Many of times, we had to sleep outside and of course, it rained and you get wet. We went from, I guess it was Reggio to Messina, or Messina to Reggio, I’m not sure, across from Sicily to Italy. And then we were in a convoy along past Taranto and up by Forgio and up the Adriatic coast until we met the army at San Vito [Chictino], which was just south of Ortona, which was having the big fight there at the time [the Battle of Ortona, December 20th – 28th, 1943].
And then we just went along with the army from there on, moved it back and forth, went across to the Hitler Line near the side of Italy and took part in it [the Hitler Line was a German defensive line in central Italy breached by the Allies in May 1944]. And went from there back to the other side again up to the Atlantic and took part in a lot of, well, and I transferred from [1st Canadian] Corps troops to 1st [Canadian Infantry] Div[ision]. Engineers. And I was with the Fourth Field Company [4th Canadian Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers] and a lot of the time was spent in building bridges over the rivers because there’s so many rivers coming down from the mountains into the Adriatic. And the Germans of course would blow them all up. And then that was our job, well, mines too, we laid some mines, we took up some mines and, well, looked after roads.
Then when I went to the Fourth Field Company, my platoon and I built a Bailey Bridge [a pre-fabricated, portable, truss bridge] over the river one night, starting at 8:00 and finishing at 3:00, which is a 110 foot Bailey Bridge in the dark. Yeah, every so often, the Germans would send some shots down the road. So we’d duck out of the way while they were coming and then get back to work. And their bridge was supposed to have been 90 feet which was a Bailey Bridge, 90 feet will take a tank. At 110 feet though, they were a little bit too long so had to go back the next morning and shore it up at 90 feet because the tanks went over it that afternoon with the infantry and captured a building ahead of where we in Bagnacavallo.
And shortly after that, I was sent to the Third Field Company [3rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineer] as 2IC [2nd in command] with the rank of captain. And we weren’t there too long before we were told that we were going over to Europe [at the time where the 1st Canadian Infantry Division was transferred from Italy to Northwest Europe at the beginning of 1945]. So we took all our identification down from our trucks and our battle dress so that nobody would know that the Canadians were moving.
Well, that was very tough because it was a country that was good for defense but not for offensive because you were always running into these rivers. And then you had to make, the infantry had to set up to make another attack across the river and the Germans would be on our side. So it was a slow and laborious time and of course, we lost a lot of men because the Germans would just, a few Germans could stop a whole bunch of Canadians because of the way it was, when you’re trying to cross a river.
The attacks weren’t always successful and quite often, well, yeah, quite often you’d have to make two attacks and try a different tactic to get forward. Because if you were doing it head on, they could you hold for some time, so quite often we had to outflank them, come around and come at them from the sides. But it was stressful.