Veteran Stories:
Sprague Robert Joseph “Ike” Wiseman

Army

  • Unidentified infantryman, possibly of The Cape Breton Highlanders, examining the treads of a Sherman tank, possibly of "B" Squadron, 8th Princess Louise's (New Brunswick) Hussars, during the assault on the Gothic Line, Italy, circa August 31, 1944.
    Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-185002.

    Private Wiseman served with The Cape Breton Highlanders and participated in the assault on The Gothic Line.

    Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-185002.
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"On the outskirts of Rome, we met the Americans coming up from the Anzio beachhead. Well, of course, the Americans are going to take the credit: they went in through Rome, we went for a rest."

Transcript

Well, we left Sussex, New Brunswick and went to Halifax [Nova Scotia]; and the whole 3rd Canadian [Infantry] Division was going over, which was around 40,000 troops and we were on five liners. I was on the [SS] Duchess of York. We had the battleship [HMS] Malaya and destroyers [well-armed escort vessels], and corvettes [lightly armed escort vessels], and you name it, all around as far as we could see, but they were all there around the harbour, seeing the mass of troops that we got, ships that we got outside of Halifax. And we had 600 Italian prisoners of war. They were brought to Canada to work on the farms, but they were going back to work on the farms in England. So they were on the [HMS] Orion.

We went to Liverpool, the Duchess of York, and we disembarked at Liverpool. And we had …

Okay, and how long were you in Liverpool?

Oh, just overnight, boarded the train the next morning and headed for the south of England. So we had a sandwich at a place called Granby on the way down. The last ham sandwich I was going to have for five or six years.

Well, my trip to Italy wasn’t very good. Not action, but I didn’t know a soul aboard ship, not a person. After being with The North Shore [(New Brunswick) Regiment] from the seventh of June [1940; when he enlisted] up until January 1944 - when I went to Italy ̶ I knew most everybody. I didn’t know a soul, and I found that very, very hard. We were on a freighter, down in the bloody hold, a wooden staircase going up. We had the word of an aircraft attack coming in. But it never attacked us. So the trip was uneventful and this was a Javanese [Indonesian], not a Japanese [ship]. They all looked like Japanese aboard; [we wondered] where we were going? But anyway, they were Javanese and there was this big freighter, and left Greenock, Scotland, landed [after] 19 days at sea.

Easter Sunday, we [The Cape Breton Highlanders] went into the lines at Monte Cassino, more or less hunting for information or who the enemy troops were in front of us because eventually we’d have to have an attack. So we stood there for four weeks and we had, I think it was around 14 or 15 killed on the static front, and the highlight of the whole thing was we had a man by the name of [Private John Joseph] McGrath. Word had been dispatched from Ottawa to dispatch him to Canada, because his wife had died and he was married now with a bunch of children, five children. Poor bugger got killed so, and the kids were all orphaned [Private McGrath is buried in the Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery, Cassino, Italy, Grave XIII. F. 22]. So we got our knuckles rapped for that because he should have never went into the lines. They had the information before we went in.

So we stayed there for a month and we come out with the information we had and prisoners we’d taken, and loss of our own men. We were out for about ten days, I’d say, then we went in on the attack. Yeah. We hit the Gustav Line [German defensive line], G-U-S-T-A-V Line, and the Hitler Line [German defensive line] and accomplished that by the fifth of June; and on the outskirts of Rome, where we met the Americans coming up from the Anzio beachhead. Well, of course, the Americans are going to take the credit: they went in through Rome, we went for a rest (laughs). So that was that action.

So the next action was at the Gothic Line [German defensive line], that would be in August. We were a long while there. And at the Gothic Line, we really got into the thick of it about the 10 September, 1944. Had a bunch of men killed there. Crossed a bunch of rivers, canals, which is hard going.

One thing that comes to my mind is a boy here from Bathurst [New Brunswick] right now, no, a boy from Cape Breton, that’s the guy that has five children at home and they took him into the lines and he shouldn’t have went in, they had notification from headquarters in Ottawa to tell him to, to let him to go to NETD, Non-Effective Transit Depot, and come back to Canada because his wife had died. They took him [in] the lines and he got killed, that was one thing that I’ll never forget.

And then in our last battle, we had a boy from Bathurst, Gerald Lackett. And the last attack we had at Delfzijl [The Netherlands, from April 23 to May 2, 1945, as part of the Northwest Europe Campaign], he was going to be in the leading company, "B" Company. Well, they got slaughtered, but before they went in, I spoke to the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major], who was from Montreal, Ralph Diplock. I said, "do you remember Cassino when Rod got killed?" He said, "yeah." "We’ve got the same thing happening now." I said, "well, Lackett, they’re taking him into the lines and they’re going to run into the same circumstances that happened at Cassino." And I said, "we got hell from Ottawa, from the military about that, he should have been sent to the transit depot." So I think I saved that guy’s life. Just by a few words of mouth.

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