"We had moved across the river, several of us in a line, sort of keeping our heads down we thought, but obviously they had spotted us. It was a machine gun sniper and they aim for the shoulders and they’ll get rid of the guns. One went across my neck but fortunately, didn’t go too deep."
You know, there was quite a lot of pushing at the time, you know, the war politics and that sort of thing. My father had been in First War and there was a sort of a feeling that we should enlist. And when I joined the Queen’s Own [Rifles of Canada] originally, it was not active service, it was reserve. And quite a lot of fellows my age did that. But I think there was a general feeling of patriotism and certainly the news about the Hitler came across very badly, if you know what I mean.
But as far as drill is concerned, you know, you’re 19 years of age and you’re healthy and you’re a bunch of fellows and they’re kidding on each other and we’re marching and we’re singing songs, marching and we’re going through the routines with the bayonet practice, that sort of thing. And we didn’t do much range work, although we did some, but we didn’t have any mortars at the time until we got to England, then I got into a three inch mortar group and we practiced a lot with those. And then there was two inch mortars and then the Bren guns [a light machine gun] came in, which we hadn’t in Canada. And but it did, oh yeah, as I say, 19, 20 years old, you enjoy that stuff.
I was down in the hold, slept in a hammock all the way and one of my stories that I bore my family with for years is that when we got down there, we were just getting settled and we spoke to one of the crew member and said, “Boy, we’re quite deep in the ship, quite low.” And he said, “Yes,” he says, “great,” he said, if a torpedo comes, it’ll go right over your head.
[Crossing the Melfa River, Italy, 23 May to 25 May 1944, second phase of Operation Chesterfield, the objectives were to cross the Melfa River and seize a bridgehead and the town of Ceprano; Major John Keefer Mahony of the Westminster Regiment was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions during the battle] Our objective was to push the Germans back across the river [Melfa River], which we did. But in the process, my sergeant was killed, he had gone ahead, you’re probably familiar, with mortars, you have someone who advances and by radio, directs the mortar crew to fire its mortars at certain altitudes, that sort of thing. And that was his job, was to go forward and radio back and say, “Okay, such and such a degree, fire four rounds,” or whatever. But in the process, he was shot and we didn’t hear from him. And I was standing around with the crew and all of a sudden Major Manny [Major John Keefer Mahony, VC] come over and said, “Why are you still on this side of the river?” And I said, “I was waiting for orders.” And he said, “Well, here’s your orders, get over to the other side of the river.” So that’s what I did, with the crew. And by then, it was pretty well finished, the Germans had retreated further north.
I remember in one town, Matera [Italy], we were in, we gave a Christmas dinner to the locals. It was a very small village. So they came up with the idea, we gave, because they didn’t have a lot of food at that time, the Italians. They had been on rations before the invasion happened and then when the invasion happened of course, the farmers can’t do their job when the fields are being run over by tanks.
What we were doing, the job we were doing at that time was clearing country roads. The Germans had by that time, were moving back or retreating so to speak but they would leave small units, a couple of tanks and a couple of big guns, a lot of machine guns in little spots at crossroads or something like that. And it was to hinder our movements. They could knock off as many of us as they could and then they would retreat. And they did this quite steadily.
We had moved across the river [Melfa River] and we were moving forward and not single or anything but several of us in a line, sort of keeping our heads down we thought, but obviously they had spotted us. It was a machine gun sniper and they aim for the shoulders and they’ll get rid of the guns. One went across my neck but fortunately, didn’t go too deep.
Well, once I got over the, I was in a cast for a while, and once I got up on my feet and was walking around again, it wasn’t too bad. Because you know, fellows in the hospital, that had sort of the same stories to tell as I had, so we were quite a good group. And then when several of us were told we were going home, why of course, that was A1.