Canadian Forces Certificate of Service and Identity Card.Arthur Brown
Regimental History Book of the 11th Canadian Army Field Regiment.Arthur Brown
Mr. Brown in October 2009.Historica Canada
"It was embedded in my bone and they said, well, it’s not going to move anyhow, I’ll put a battle dressing on it and give you a handful of aspirin and back to the gun."
I was actually working in an ammunition plant in Brantford, Ontario. I grew up in Hamilton but all my friends and that down there had all joined the army. My brother had joined the army. And as a matter of fact, he kicked me out of the mustering office in 1939. Just the fact that everybody had gone and were doing their part and I felt left behind and, so I went down and joined up, against my father’s advice, who was a First World War veteran.
Major Murphy was attached to us there at Ortona. Shortly after that, we went over to Salerno on the Mediterranean side. We provided a transit camp for soldiers going up to practice landings in the northern part of Italy. We came back down and broke out from the Gustav Line, went up the Adriatic side of Italy until we got to about Rimini. And we were in a position just outside of Rimini when we got the word that we were being transferred to the Mediterranean side again, to Monte Cassino, which was one of the big battles.
At that time, I happened to have a pass to go down and see some of the boys I’d had basic training with, who were just down the road from us. And we were in there, sheltered and playing cards that night, we heard gun tractors and guns going by. I got up in the morning and went back to my unit, found out my unit had moved out without me. (laughs) So I was left there. I had to hitchhike down as far as the nearest traffic station. And they informed me that the regiment was going across to Cassino. So they fed me there and they verified my pass and I told them I was going to hitchhike across Italy to get back to my unit. And I said, I don’t want to go through the reinforcement and so they were good heads. They verified my pass and, and I started out and it started to get dark on the lateral route. All of a sudden, a three-quarter-ton went by with just cat’s eyes on [small headlights and taillights used during night operations], but I happened to catch a glimpse of the TAC sign [unit identification] on the vehicle and it only got about 50 yards up in front of me and I heard a very rough voice shouting, ‘you, get down here!’ So I doubled down to the three quarter ton and it was my RSM, Regimental Sergeant Major who had just finished turning in his salvage and he was heading for Cassino.
So I rode the back of his truck across to Cassino. When we got there, we found that it was just about the biggest artillery concentration of World War II. We started out doing mostly harassing fire on the top of the hill, where the monastery was. And my Major was up there, in the railway station on the top of the hill. He was a fair-haired chap, when he went up there. When he came down, he was white. And he wasn’t up there anymore than about two weeks at the most, virtually turned white overnight.
When we left Cassino, we broke out into the Liri Valley. That was when the troops were moving quite rapidly. The Germans were falling back but they were falling back with the resistance. And so there was a lot of fire back and forth and a lot of what we called DF [Defensive Fire] SOS tasks, which are night shoots that we have previously registered in front of our own infantry to protect them from counterattack and make the enemy go down.
And it was during one of these DF [Defensive Fire] SOS tasks, I was loading the gun and laying the gun down at the same time. I fired one gun, reached down to get another one to load it and all of a sudden, I felt a smack behind my left ear. The next thing I knew, I was on my hands and knees on the bottom of the gun pit and what had happened, which I found out the next morning, I had a premature in the muzzle of the gun. In fact, it was so close to the muzzle of the gun that the base part of the projectile came back down into the cartridge case. I don’t know whether you know, a 25-pounder gun, it’s about three and three-quarter inches in diameter and weighs 25 pounds. It’s loaded with HE [High Explosive]. And what had happened is the fuse on the projectile just didn’t work. The round went off as soon as it left the barrel of the gun.
So as I say, it knocked me down and I reached up sort of thing and we looked first thing and I felt something slick in my hands. And my number one said to me, Brown, get the hell up here and load that gun thing. And he’s waiting for us to fire. And so I said, Russ, I think I’ve been hit. And actually, I got three pieces of shrapnel in behind my left ear. I went down to the MIR [Medical Inspection Room] and they tried to pull it out and they couldn’t pull it out. It was embedded in my bone and they said, well, it’s not going to move anyhow, I’ll put a battle dressing on it and give you a handful of aspirin and back to the gun.
And it wasn’t shortly after that, I got a visit from the padre, he got a hold of me and told me that my mother was dying and that she wanted me to come home. So I told him then, right then and there, I said, there’s no way I’m going to be able to go home because we’ve had so many casualties. I see infantry sections going up with two men, three men, not even an NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] in charge of them and they’re going up to the line and I’m sure they’re not going to take an artillery man out of there, unless they put him into the infantry. But certainly not to go home.
So anyhow, it turned out that they refused the application and rightly so. Felt very bad because my mother was hanging on apparently in hopes that I would make it home.