"We had a bit of a little battle there and I think luckily for us, we weren’t asked to carry on. Because I think we were heading towards, I think it was Highway 6, the main highway going up out of Cassino, and there was reports of an anti-tank nest just waiting for us. "
We trained there until I guess about the beginning of May [1944 in the Italian theater of war with the 5th Armoured Regiment (8th Princess Louise’s (New Brunswick) Hussars)] and we started down to take part in the attack on the Liri Valley through the Hitler Line [a German defensive line in central Italy]. And that was our first main action. The 1st [Canadian Infantry] Division had gone in earlier in May. I’m not sure exactly when. About the 11th or 12th. The 1st [Canadian] Army Tank Brigade and the British Regiments and the Indians had broken through the first line of defence, which was the Gustav Line [another German defensive line in Italy]. And then the next line, just almost immediately behind it, was the Hitler Line. And the 1st Division went in and they broke a hole through and I remember we were going through it and the hole was only about ¼ of a mile wide. There was the 1st Div[ision] soldiers marching back and I remember looking at some of them and saying to myself, “Well now I’ve seen a soldier.” They had just the basic equipment. A spade, a rifle and a small pack. And there was bridging equipment. Everything was trying to get through this hole.
The 1st Div broke through the Hitler Line. The British divisions and our 1st Army Tank Brigade had broken through the Gustav Line. And so, we were about halfway through this hole. We were told to turn sharp right and head off. And the colonel ordered the recce [reconnaissance] troop out and the recce troop hadn’t gone more than, I’m sure, two or three hundred yards and they bumped into the Germans. And the recce troop commander was a bit of a wag and always saying strange things on the wireless. And the colonel couldn’t believe that we had bumped into Germans. And he questioned this chap Herb Schnell. And Herb said, “If these aren’t the Gerries [a derogatory term referring to German troops], then I’m Jesus Christ.” But anyway, we had a bit of a little battle there and I think luckily for us, we weren’t asked to carry on. Because I think we were heading towards, I think it was Highway 6, the main highway [linking Rome and Monte Cassino], going up out of [Monte] Cassino, and there was reports of an anti-tank nest just waiting for us. So anyway, we were ordered back on the centerline.
We went forward. Unknown to me at the time, but that day that we had been ordered right, the Strathconas [Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians)] had [Lieutenant Edward James] Perkins--got a DSO [the Distinguished Service Order, a British military decoration], and [Major Jack] Mahoney of The Westminster Regiment [Motor] got a VC [the Victoria Cross, a British military decoration]. Now, the Straths--Perkins was in charge of the recce troop. He found a way across the Melfa River. And he made a small bridgehead. The Westministers came up and held that bridge head. The Straths didn’t, I think, get any tanks across. They were under very heavy shellfire and one of the guns was a very large caliber gun, because General [William Alexander] Milroy, who was squadron commander, I think, at the time, told me that they had trouble with this big gun. The Straths pulled back and they ran into a logger, but they were under observation by the Germans. The Germans waited until they got out of their tanks to gas up and that sort of thing and then let them have it. And they lost a lot of people. Then the BCDs [the 9th Armoured Regiment (The British Columbia Dragoons)] were put in. They got across the Melfa and they lost a number of tanks.
We moved into a laager. We were to support The Cape Breton Highlanders going across. We had an O Group in a shallow sort of dug out, not far from the colonel’s tank and we were shelled. And the scheme was there was the colonel of The Cape Breton Highlanders went in our colonel’s tank. His tank in it, by the way, didn’t have a gun. It had a dummy gun and it had room in there for a map table and two radios. The 2 I/C [second-in-command] actually came in my tank--of The Cape Breton Highlanders. And we started down towards the Melfa River. Our column was held up. We in a sort of sunken road. And I saw the colonel, who was ahead of me, get out of his tank and run across the river and what had happened was that one of the infantry platoons had a Carrier [the Universal Carrier, a British light armoured tracked vehicle]. And the boys in the carrier were afraid of going up on the flat ground on the other side of the river. And George Robertson told them, he said, “You may be afraid of the Germans, but you’d better be more afraid of me.” He said, “And you get this damn thing out of here.” So, he cleared up that roadblock and we got a squadron up there, C Squadron. This was the first and only time that the regimental headquarters was moved right behind the lead squadron. The colonel wanted to be in control. We started down and one of the biggest shells that I ever had an experience with landed maybe 25 yards away on my right. It left a big crater. It singed my eyebrows. I was never so frightened in my life, because I thought, “Gee all he has to do is correct it and he’ll get three or four tanks all in a row.” However, it never fired again. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was a railway gun that had come out of a tunnel and fired. We had a cabrank of six airplanes up above us and we could call them in whenever they were needed. Now, whether they spotted this big gun and it withdrew into the tunnel or what, I don’t know.
Interview with Captain Hunter Dunn FCWM Oral History Project
George Metcalf Archival Collection
© Canadian War Museum