Veteran Stories:
Harry Greenhough

Army

  • Harry Greenhough and a friend at the cenotaph in Victoria, British Columbia, Remembrance Day 2011.

    Harry Greenhough
  • Harry Greenhough's berthing card for HMCS Lady Nelson.

    Harry Greenhough
  • Harry Greenhough's dog tags.

    Harry Greenhough
  • A rosary a Catholic priest gave to Harry Greenhough on his arrival in Italy in June 1943, as a token of good luck.

    Harry Greenhough
  • Harry Greenhough's medals (left to right): 1939-1945 Star, Italy Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Medal, 1939-1945 War Medal with Oak Leaf denoting Mentioned in Despatches.

    Harry Greenhough
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"So without thinking, I ran up the slope and along the plateau where I could fire into the town. I had finished one magazine when Lieutenant John McLean joined me and directed fire. As we were lying in the prone position, a bullet shot up the sand just under my left shoulder, a mark which I carried for years. The next one was passed over to hit the sand about two feet from Lieutenant McLean."

Transcript

This missing day, July the 21st, 1943. The reason for the essay is to explain how I lost 24 hours during the effort to take a town called Leonforte in Sicily around July the 21st to 23, 1943. All the records, battalion and medical, would show that I was wounded on July the 22nd, 1943. This is not a fact, as the actual date was July the 21st.

After landing in Sicily on July the 10th, 1943, The Seaforth Highlanders were on a 30-mile daily search for at least 11 days. The only exception to this was the occasion when we had to hike five miles to listen to General Montgomery,* who gave a Rah-Rah while standing in his jeep. And we were encouraged to give him “three cheers and a tiger.” Nobody I know gave a damn and would have much rather rested than hike the 10 miles just to listen to him. On top of marching an average of 30 miles a day in the hot Sicilian sun, with not enough water, it was decided that we should stand guard two hours on and two hours off. This was a terrible schedule and the result, more than one occasion, dreaming while marching down the road was not uncommon. The routine was 50 minutes walking, then a 10 minute break, when everyone crashed in the ditches along the road. I describe this so as to explain my actions later on.

On the morning of July the 21st, we would take the town of Leonforte. A Company under Major [Henry Pybus] Bell-Irving, was in the lead. The C Company under Major Blair, next. Walking single file, we stretched out along the road a considerable distance. We were stopped, so as usual we were released in the ditch and waited to be told what to do next. After some time, the word was passed down that the Germans had blown the bridge and the gulley was impossible to cross. At this time, Bell-Irving started shouting and as we were so far away, we had to wait for the message to be passed down the line. He wanted a Bren [light machine] gun up on the plateau to our right to fire into the town.

Due to circumstances that happened at where I was located along the road, there was an easier access to the plateau. So without thinking, I ran up the slope and along the plateau where I could fire into the town. I had finished one magazine when Lieutenant John McLean joined me and directed fire. As we were lying in the prone position, a bullet shot through the sand just under my left shoulder, a mark which I carried for years. The next one was passed over to hit the sand about two feet from Lieutenant McLean. I suggested we move back but he felt we should continue to raise havoc in the town. It was during this part of the operation that I realized how stupid it was that the order to have every seventh shell an incendiary** was just giving our location away to any enemy that might be around. The third shot hit me in the right leg and luckily for me, only the front bone. As it happened, there was a cave behind us and Lieutenant McLean helped me back there and applied an emergency bandage. There was some straw in the cave and he left to rejoin his platoon.

As you read this, it might seem that the better part of a day had passed but not having a watch, time was never an issue. It was actually still very early morning, a lovely opportunity to catch up on my sleep. In the next 24 hours, I remember waking up three times, once when some of my comrades looked in the cave and said, “We will be back to pack you out,” and left me with a can of cheese. The next time I woke, I opened the cheese, which turned out to be tea. In the rations, the tea was mixed with powdered milk and sugar, so you just dumped it into boiling water and you had weak tea with milk and sugar added. I was so cheesed off that I threw the can across the other side of the cave. The third time I woke up, it was morning again and a thousand small black and red ants were biting at my leg. They had found the tea with sugar and milk and were packing it home as well as all the blood, etc., from my leg and bandage.

At this time, it was obvious that if I wanted out, I’d better get back to the road, approximately 100 yards. I found in the cave a stainless steel dagger about 14 inches long which I took along and later sold for 100 francs – another story. As I came out of the cave, crawling with my right leg up in the air, my arms behind me, trying to keep my backside off the ground, I realized how terribly thirsty I was. I had finished my water bottle long ago and the hot Sicilian sun just soaked the moisture from one’s body. A few yards outside the cave, down in the direction I had to go lay seven Seaforths, all face down and in a row, a section. I recognized them as coming from another company and one of them was a very large Native Indian nicknamed Chief. Most Native Americans I knew in the army got the nickname Chief. It was a term of endearment and not disrespectful, as it is considered today. If your name was Rhodes or Road, you were going to be called Dusty.

As I approached the first one, I took the water bottle, took a big swig and spewed it out. It was vino, very warm from laying in the hot morning sun. So it was that I passed down the line, sampling water bottles until I got to number four, who had water. While it was still warm, it saved the day and I drank until the bottle was empty. I later learned that an artillery bombardment had been ordered on Leonforte and the first two or three shells landed on the plateau. It must have been large, it was my suspicion that when they detonated, they sucked the air out of the lungs of the seven casualties. The cave saved my life as it was only a few feet away where I was hidden.

When I finally reached the road, I saw three or four individuals standing around where the bridge had been, so I continued my back crawl to that area and found two engineers waiting for the equipment to replace the bridge and an Italian doctor who wanted to look at my leg. This I would not let him do, so I sat on the side of the road and waited for the ambulance or some mode of transportation to take me on my journey. So you will see by the army records that July the 22nd, 1943 was when I was wounded but they did not take into account the missing day and that’s the story.

*Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, Commander, British 8th Army, of which 1st Canadian Infantry Division was a part

**Bullets with a small pyrotechnic charge in the base which burns and enables the shooter to follow these bullets’ trajectories, assisting the shooter’s aim

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